Experiencing malaria firsthand
AT: So you haven’t really told me much about your experience with malaria and how you got it. What happened?
CW: I probably haven’t told you because I struggle with how to tell people about it in depth, given the insignificance of my case as opposed to those who live with this on a daily basis. It sucked, but how can I say that when there are people who are suffering so much more. When I tell people I got it, people say things like “how exotic” and other silly things like that. But the fact is that this is a constant threat that half the world’s population lives with. It always throws me off when people are amazed that I got malaria. It’s been hard to express my personal encounter with it as a motivation for working to reduce the number of malaria cases, but it is what made it real to me, in my life. It was so easy for me to get diagnosed, be treated, and leave the area that put me at risk. I can escape to the US where I don’t have to worry about it at all. I won’t get it again here, but I had to leave behind a country where there was no escape. Tons of people get malaria, that’s the thing – when you’re travelling, it’s not a big deal, but when you live in a malaria-endemic area, it can kill your kids or your pregnant wife.
AT: What was it actually like to get malaria? What happens?
CW: I was amazed by the fact that I couldn’t get out of bed – I’ve never felt so tired in my life. I’d been dancing every day in Ghana but two days before I got diagnosed we had this dance performance, and I couldn’t understand what was making me so unbelievably exhausted. I was miserable and almost fainted a few times, which made me think something might be wrong. It was as though I couldn’t really move – I’m not sure how to explain it, but my dancing probably wasn’t that great that day. It was so crazy, whenever there was a break in the middle of the dance, I’d sit on the side and think about how difficult it would be for me to get back up again.
I went to the hospital the next day. For me, the dancing was part of what I was there to do while I was studying, but I can’t imagine having other more important commitments, such as work, that if you had malaria, you just wouldn’t be able to uphold. It made me think about how grimly malaria could affect your whole family and your income for that month.
AT: What are the other symptoms?
CW:I would describe it as a bad flu, and I would say I had a pretty mild case – fever, vomiting, other things I don’t want to get into – you get the picture. You can imagine how that leads to problems of dehydration and a weakened immune system, especially for kids.
AT: Did you know of any kids who had malaria?
CW: Our cook’s son, Ebenezer. He was a cutie. I played with him a lot. He got malaria while I was there. He was totally wiped out for a week, and his mom had to take him to the doctor and couldn’t do her work because she had to care for her son. They didn’t treat it as if it was a big deal, because they told me matter-of-factly, “we’re Ghanaian, we get malaria.” It was really hard though to see a kid who was playing and laughing the previous day, so incapable of enjoying life due to a preventable disease.
AT: What would you tell people who don’t know much or don’t care about malaria?
CW: When I was sick, I couldn’t do anything, I just lay there. But as soon as I got the medicine, I started feeling so much better. It was such a quick turn around with the effectiveness of the drugs. The effectiveness of treatment is what really made me want to get involved with this fellowship and working on malaria, because I know that there are ways to make a difference and improve peoples’ lives. It’s as simple as diagnosing correctly and providing the right medicine in addition to the preventative measures a few dollars can buy.
AT: Thank you so much for sharing. I’ve never actually encountered malaria firsthand but this makes it feel real for me, too. It reminds me why it’s so important that we’re doing this work, and I feel really blessed to be able to do it with you. 3.3 billion people in the world are at risk for malaria. There are 10 new cases every second. Every 45 seconds, a child in Africa dies from malaria – a preventable and treatable disease. There are real people behind these massive numbers. If you’d like to get involved with the work of the Faiths Act Fellows, follow us on facebook or twitter @FaithsActUS. If you’re in the DC area – we’d love to hear from you!