Up until this point, we have written about things that have been very uplifting. The reality in Africa is that there are some difficult issues to deal with. One issue that hit home this weekend is malaria. To our knowledge, everyone we know has malaria. Every single African we have established a relationship with has malaria. Most, if not all, employees of BCC will get sick from malaria for one to two weeks throughout the year. Most, if not all, of the children served by BCC will become incredibly ill from a disease that is 100% preventable. Most of the people who will become sick from malaria this year will not receive any medication from a doctor because they cannot afford to get to the hospital or because they cannot afford the medication that treats the symptoms. Malaria is treatable and preventable, but it cannot be cured. Once you have malaria, you will always have malaria.
Currently, we are taking medications that prevent malaria from entering our body. Since we are only here for one year, this makes sense. The medications that prevent malaria are expensive and have long-term side effects that would be difficult to treat. Combine the cost and the long-term side effects and it is not a long-term solution for Africans.
An adorable five-year-old girl that we know was diagnosed with malaria this weekend. She is a wonderful child with tons of energy, the most wonderful smile, and some great English speaking skills. She is beautiful, brilliant, and she lights up whatever room she enters. She had a high fever, was sick to her stomach, and was so weak she could not move. Thankfully her family can afford the medications that can treat the symptoms; otherwise she would have to endure the disease without medical assistance. Either way, she will have the disease for the rest of her life. For one to two weeks a year – for the rest of her life – she will become very sick and won’t be able to work or attend school, even with medications that treat her symptoms.
The reality of the situation is that children who suffer repeated bouts of malaria can suffer a lifetime of ill effects caused by things such as chronic anemia and complications caused by a difficult “flair” of the disease. With so many repeated episodes of the disease, children who contract malaria early in life often drop out of school earlier due to poor attendance and difficulty learning when flairs occur.
Africa is much different than many places where malaria is present. The disease is prevalent and so is poverty. Therefore, even with preventative measures, it is not a matter of “if” you get malaria it is a matter of “when” you get malaria. Here, when someone with malaria has a “flair up” they disappear for about a week, whether they have medications that treat the symptoms or not.
Malaria is transmitted when a female mosquito bites someone who is already infected with malaria. After being ingested by the mosquito, the parasite goes into the mosquito’s belly; there it undergoes a life-cycle transformation. After that transformation, it migrates back to the mosquito’s salivary glands where it can be injected into another victim. The life cycle change takes about two weeks.
Something else that is very interesting is pointed out by Jeffery D. Sachs in The End of Poverty: Economic Possibilities for Our Time.
Another important point is that some types of mosquitoes prefer to bite people, whereas other feed off cattle. Transmitting malaria requires two consecutive human bites: The first for the mosquito to ingest the parasite and the second for the mosquito to infect another person, roughly two weeks later. If the mosquito feeds frequently on cattle rather than people the odds are that at least one of the two bites, if not both, will be taken from cattle. It India, for example, the predominant type of anopheles tends to bite humans about one third of the time, and cattle the rest. Africa, sadly, has another predominating mosquito type which prefers human biting nearly 100 percent of the time.
That means that mathematically, the chance that a mosquito in India will feed off two humans in a row is about one out of nine, whereas in Africa, it’s about one out of one. That means you are roughly nine times more likely to get malaria in Africa just because of the species of mosquito.
Sachs also says,
All of this helps to explain why Africa is burdened with malaria like no other part of the world, but it does not mean that the situation is hopeless. Far from it. Household spraying, insecticide-treated bed nets, and antimalarial medications all work in Africa just as they do in other parts of the world. Although these technologies will not eliminate the disease in the way that it was eliminated in Europe and the United States, they will control the disease, reducing decisively the number of deaths from malaria. No children need to die, and none will if they have access to all of the modern tools of disease prevention and treatment!
However, at this point, malaria supports the poverty trap. It assists in impoverishing a country because people can’t work, attend school, or afford the medications to treat the symptoms. Because of the poverty of the country, it is too expensive to prevent and treat malaria without aid from other countries or assistance from non-governmental organizations. So, malaria continues and poverty deepens in a truly vicious cycle.
We noticed that World Malaria Day was last week. This is a day that is dedicated to increasing the awareness of malaria and working toward the eradication of the disease. Many non-governmental organizations and individuals, such as Bill Gates, are working diligently to eradicate malaria. This is a great concept and an ambitious goal that we fully support; however, the current situation in Africa is a much different story. Here, the end of malaria is several generations away. The new generation will get malaria at a young age, they will struggle to attend school and work, and the vicious cycle will continue.