Tuesday, 26 July 2011
Malaria and other fun facts
Malawi is one of the poorest countries in the entire world. Actually ranking in the bottom 10 of all countries. While it is true that most African countries are poverty stricken, Malawi is the poorest. With a population of over 13 million people stuffed into a landmass smaller than the state of Pennsylvania, it is not only poor but crowded as well. Half the population is under the age of 15, the per capita income for over 75% of the people is around $250 a year. Over 15% of the country is infected with HIV/Aids. The life expectancy is only 43 years! Though HIV/Aids is a prominent killer reeking havoc on nearly every single family as we have come across so many children who are being raised by an aunt or grandparent because both parents have passed away. The government is trying to do their absolute best but they seem to be losing the battle. Nearby Zambia actually has a program where if men go in to get circumcised they get $10 worth of free airtime for their cell phones. Circumcision seems to be quite a help to the spread of infection. But HIV/Aids is only one part of why the life expectancy is so low. The other major killer in Africa and other tropical parts of the world is Malaria. As a matter of fact, it is the number one health issue that we as travellers face on our journeys. There are a number of precautions that we are able to take to reduce our exposure none of which in and of themselves is 100% effective. Malaria is a parasite carried by mosquitoes mainly the female anopheles variety. So obviously the key to not getting malaria is to not get bit. We are here in Southern Africa during their “winter” so overall the amount of insects are low compared to other times of the year. The mosquitoes that carry malaria generally are active between dusk until dawn so every day around 4:30-5:00 we diligently put on long sleeved shirts and long pants and thoroughly spray any exposed areas with heavy duty deet or something similar. We took the preventative measure of spraying ALL of our outer layers of clothing with a chemical called premethrin. Along with spraying a double dose of premethrin on our mosquito net that we religiously bring with us when travelling in malaria infested areas. Since we are going to be travelling for nearly 5 months here in Africa, both of our doctors along with a travel consultant doctor recommended that we do not take any type of malaria propolactic medication due to the long term effects on the kidney and liver that can be devastating. People that live in malaria infested regions have a different regimen that they follow. Usually they are not able to afford either repellent or more importantly mosquito nets to sleep under, most if not all usually contract malaria at a very young age. Due to repeated exposure to malaria while growing up, by adulthood the ones that HAVE survived have usually built up some type of immunity and only develop mild cases of malaria. Since most westerners are never exposed to the parasite while growing up, the symptoms can be much more severe. The onset of symptoms can take up to 3 months after getting bit. Usually presenting themselves as a mild case of the flu, slight fever, aching bones, chills, general malaise. The symptoms usually are more severe at night time and almost non-existent during the day. If not treated immediately the symptoms can progress rapidly especially if it is the strain called falciparum “which is most prevalent” here in Southern Africa. Within 24 hours of initial onset of symptoms a person can become unconscious eventually falling into a coma followed by a certain death. Even if a patient is able to get immediate ICU care there is more than a 10% chance they will still die. The major problem here in Malawi besides the fact that most hospitals and clinics are severely under funded, poorly maintained with a lack of qualified medical professionals. The under qualified staff tend to diagnose many different ailments that they are presented as malaria for which they prescribe quinine which this drug is quite effective at subduing the malaria parasite (it can never be killed lying dormant in ones body) but as they prescribe it for many ailments it is not equally effective for obvious reasons. We have heard of a person that got bit by a snake and fortunately the snake was not poisonous as they were prescribed quinine and not the usual anti venom that we in the West would receive. Fortunately for the patient the snake was not poisonous allowing this person to live. But many other diseases and infections go untreated because of this lack of proper diagnosis. Needless to say, both of us are doing our absolute best to avoid getting sick, injured, or bit by mosquitoes.