Face to face with malaria

A hot topic of conversation prior to this trip related to mosquitos – which anti-malarial was I going to take? How much repellent would I need? How many different anti-histamines would I need for my inevitable allergic reaction to bites? Would I need my own mozzie net?  The first day of Malarone (my anti-malarial of choice, after a comparison of side-effects) was duly marked with an arty Instagram shot and will be a feature of every breakfast until a week on Sunday.

Malarone Day 1

Now that we’re here, I’ve found the novelty of sleeping under a net quite exciting, going far as to tweet on our night in Entebbe: “Sleeping under a mosquito net is pretty much like pretending to get married & having a massive veil. And then sleeping under it.” This morning, I opened my eyes and was initially concerned that my vision appeared blurred. Then I realised that my face was almost up against the net…

I’ve developed a good routine of spraying repellent after every shower (that’s morning and evening thanks to the day’s heat and the village’s dust); wearing long clothes in the evening; tucking my net in every night; and of course taking my Malarone religiously.

Mosquito nets have been a major feature of Comic Relief’s campaigns over the last few years. I’d certainly been moved to donate more than once following films in hospitals treating small children with malaria, almost to no avail. In fact, on Saturday night, hours before we left, I caught a film from One Direction’s recent visit to Ghana and their experiences in a Ghanaian paediatric ward. Harry Styles was moved to sobs so violent that he could barely utter the number needed for texting donations.

We’ve seen evidence of malaria prevention in Ogongora – there are nets in the sleeping huts. But we’ve also seen plenty of evidence that a net alone won’t prevent the disease from striking. On our first morning, we met the President of PAG whose wife was in hospital being treated. Later we heard that our driver’s daughter was suffering too (having already lost one brother to the illness). Then someone in the village we’d hoped to meet turned out to be sick. As I write, Joseph our driver is seeking treatment having come down with the same affliction as his daughter.

People here cannot afford the luxury of daily anti-malarials – they have to wait until they get sick to have treatment. They have nets, but not repellent. They have whatever clothes they have and certainly don’t have clever garments already impregnated with repellent like Bex has. It’s vicious and, like so many things we’re coming across, incredibly unfair.

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