KAMPALA, UGANDA — School in Mbarara about 19 years ago, I had several malaria attacks. At the time, the foul smelling Chloroquine was the basic treatment, and many students dreaded taking it. Chloroquine, unlike other conventional drugs, had no sugar coating, and if you tried to swallow and it failed to go down, the impact would be terribly discomforting.
One day I religiously took my full anti-Malaria dose of Chloroquine, and thought I had recovered. The side effects of the drug normally lasted about a week, and this was a week without attending class. I still felt sick but imagined it was the effect of the drug.
There was no laboratory at our school and you had to be referred to the main hospital several kilometers away in order to get some checkup. I did the checkup and the results indicated that I still had malaria –at that time I suspected my body had become resistant to Chloroquine, and I changed to a stronger drug, Fansidar. Since then I have learned that in Uganda, in fact the malaria parasite was widely becoming resistant to Chloroquine, such that it is no longer usually an effective treatment. While Fansidar was stronger, its side effects were far worse than Chloroquine, requiring a lot of drinks to rehydrate-and in a school environment, having adequate drinks was quite a luxury! On another occasion, after Fansidar stopped being effective too, I tried the sugar-coated Quinine, but it nearly drove me insane as I started to scratch the wall, overwhelmed by its side effects. At this point, catching malaria became such a scaring experience.
As I grew older, my malaria attacks reduced quite significantly, and until recently, I hadn’t experienced any malaria for at least 7 years. Just a thought about it; we had been using a mosquito net, but somehow it became quite discomforting as it was difficult to breathe normally especially at night. So we decided do away with the net and instead tried spraying before bed time. For some time the spraying worked, but later complacency crept in and sometimes we simply slept without spraying. Since none of us was getting sick, we assumed that the mosquitoes had ceased to be risky.
Just a week ago, I vividly remember feeling a mosquito singing around my ear as I slept. The singing occurred almost on three different occasions. One night I felt so sick and could hardly sleep. I presented with fluctuating temperatures, joint and muscle pains and was sweating June 2014: As a little boy studying at the St. Joseph’s Vocational profusely all through the night. Little did I know that I had caught malaria. Early in the morning, I rushed to hospital with very high temperature, only for the obvious to be confirmed: Malaria, for the first time in 7 years.
I received Coartem treatment that lasted 3 days, and I was almost sure I had recovered. However, I continued to feel hot, low on mood and dizzy. On the 6th hospital for a review and was sadly told that the malaria didn’t quite go away completely. On this occasion, a new treatment (Dihydroartemisinin/Piperaquine Phosphate) was recommended, extending my healing process.
I find malaria extremely challenging especially given the fact that mosquitoes could bite you from anywhere. Emphasis is often put on night time, and is the reason people are encouraged to use mosquito nets; but during day and evening, you spend time literally fighting the mosquitoes. During my stay in South Sudan though, I lived with a group of expatriates and noticed how they were keen on applying mosquito repellant cream while relaxing on the compound especially in the evenings. Incidentally, these creams don’t come so cheap; and for the marrieds, you don’t want to apply it before bed time as this may discourage cuddling!
Meantime, in 2012, I was shocked when I traveled to South Africa. I felt all signs of malaria days after my arrival in Durban, but when I told my hosts about it, they scarcely could believe me. They said that they had never heard of anyone suffering from malaria and even doubted I could find any anti-malaria drugs in the pharmacies. Luckily enough I had carried a precautionary dose of Coartem. I took it without going for a test, and within a few days I was well again. I requested my host to buy me some repellant cream as there were no mosquito nets in the house, but she struggled to find any.
My claim of malaria made me feel quite alien. Sounds funny, but I suspect that while we plan to fight malaria, the mosquitoes are also “planning different tactics to attack, because they find us a delicacy!” If you use a net, they attack you from the living room or in your shower room or in your car. However, with a little more vigilance, we could make headway in arresting malaria. How I wish though that we could have user-friendlier drugs or better still a vaccine for the same could be discovered! It would save so many, because mosquitoes will always be here with us. Indeed, how tricky it is to fight this monster disease, malaria.