Senior Director of Programs and Operations, Konstantin Zvereff, shares his thoughts on malaria for World Malaria Day, April 25, 2012.
Every minute a child in Africa dies from malaria, a preventable and treatable disease.
– World Health Organization estimate for 2010
I hate malaria. The root word for the name – mala (bad!) – says it all. I’ve had malaria three times and can only describe the experience as horrible.
Malaria affects people in different ways; here is my experience.
It begins with severe headaches and back chills. For me, these symptoms last for two-three weeks and are driven by low concentrations of the disease organism. The level of plasmodium (the bug) in your system is so low that it is undetectable by the usual “peripheral” blood tests (finger prick). At this point your choices are to allow the plasmodium concentration to get worse (eventually you will test positive) or to pre-emptively self-medicate.
Once the plasmodium concentration gets worse, I begin to lose all of my energy. The parasites attach to the oxygen-carrying blood cells, and as a result any exercise or movement is severely exhausting. For whatever reason, it is worse at night, when you are less likely to go to the hospital. Days are only slightly better.
By this time, I have high fevers at night (105 degrees, the last time), total stomach malfunction (no details needed), and I feel incredibly weak. The slightest noise (and any talking) gives me huge headaches, and I am not the “best” person to be around.
The first time I had malaria I was in Mozambique. My neighbors had to take me out of my house and drag me to the hospital. The general pain was so great that I only wanted to fall asleep. My colleagues actually broke into my house, looking for me.
I wonder if this would happen in the U.S. People in East Africa have that sense of community that I haven’t seen in the U.S. or Europe.
How does malaria affect Village Enterprise business owners?
Our Kenya clients must pay a 100 Ksh (US $1.20) hospital fee, plus the additional costs of treatment and medical consultation. This can easily total 500 Ksh ($6) or more. Although this cost may seem low to you and me, the cost is very significant for most of our business owners. As a result, they usually wait to seek treatment until they are absolutely certain that they have malaria. By this time, their productivity has decreased dramatically, and they must travel to the nearest hospital (which can take several hours or days). This can mean they miss the best planting time, since the arrival of the rains and the mosquitoes are almost perfectly synchronized.
The most disturbing stories are those about the children of our business owners. A good friend of mine works at the local hospital in Kakamega, and he summarized the sad situation: “By the time they bring the babies to the hospital it is it too late to do anything.”
People living in extreme poverty make less than $1.25 per day, meaning the hospital fees represent a minimum of 5 days worth of work. Add to this the time lost traveling to the hospital and getting treated, and it’s easy to see how the cost of treating malaria makes is an extremely deadly disease.
A regular source of income from a sustainable business decreases the deadly effects of diseases like malaria. By creating business savings groups, our business owners are setting aside income that can be used for emergency medical care. While no preventative vaccine exists for malaria, we can all work to end the extreme poverty that causes a child in Africa to die every minute of a preventable disease.
World Malaria Day – which was instituted by the World Health Assembly at its 60th session in May 2007 – is a day for recognizing the global effort to provide effective control of malaria. It is an opportunity:
• For countries in the affected regions to learn from each other’s experiences and support each other’s efforts
• For new donors to join a global partnership against malaria
• For research and academic institutions to flag their scientific advances to both experts and general public
• For international partners, companies and foundations to showcase their efforts and reflect on how to scale up what has worked
Senior Director of Programs and Operations