Malaria No More

Preparing for my seven-month stay in Senegal, I visited the doctor for seven shots and an anti-malaria pill prescription.

Options?  Take a pill daily or weekly.

Side effects?  Sun-sensitivity or suffer physchlogical effects.

My mom’s thoughts? “AAHH! MY BABY’S GOING TO AFRICA!”

My thoughts? “YES!  CRAZY, VIVID DREAMS!”

I didn’t realize how soon I’d encounter the parasite-carrying mosquitos.

My room at my first host family in Dakar had no place to hang a bed-net. There was a fan, however, which generally does the trick except when there’s a power outage. In Senegal, that is often. I was more protected than my host-mom, who gave up her room to me and slept outside on the terrace on a mat. She wasn’t taking the preventative meds, either.

Within my first two weeks, three of my siblings were sick in succession, all from malaria. They made it seem like no big deal. It’s just another sickness, like getting the flu during flu season.  They’d go to the local health Clinique or pharmacy and buy Coartem, lay on a mat with a fever, not keep any food down, and then bounce back to business as usual after three or four uncomfortable days.

No big deal, right? Malaria is curable.

No big deal, except…Those three cases just continued the deadly cycle of the disease. Malaria is spread through infected female mosquitos. If a non-infected mosquito bites a malaria-carrying human, the cycle continues and multiplies as that bug now infects new victims.

Sleeping under a treated mosquito net would prevent the bites, which usually occur between 9PM and 5AM. The nets are free from the government…if you know where to go to find them.

Even those who have nets often only sleep under them in the rainy season when the bugs are obvious.

No big deal, except…Every 45 seconds a child here dies because of malaria. Maybe they don’t have access to the government subsidized free Coartem, or the mosquito nets. Maybe they do have access, but don’t even know they exist. Or maybe they do know, and their family and community just expect, and accept, the deaths every rainy season as inevitable.

I’m happy to say my host-family in Leona all sleep under bed nets – thanks in part to past Peace Corps volunteer Adam Ndiaye and the metal rods kept in place by cement blocks he brought in 2007. (Kudos, to you, Adam from LA. You’re also famous in Leona, by the way.)These net-holders are often more convenient than finding a way to drill a net-holder into the ceiling.

Malaria No More, in partnership with local celebrities and governments, is trying to eradicate malaria by 2015, a lofty yet frustratingly possible goal. Malaria is preventable and curable and it is still killing 781,000 people each year. Last week, the other GCY Senegal Fellows and I helped at a Malaria No More publicity walk in Dakar, in preparation for World Malaria Day, today (April 25, 2011).

For me, in the States, malaria was as intangible as polio or measles. For my family in Dakar, it was an inconvenience and a temporary pain. For many around the world, Malaria brings new graves.

Naomi, Johannes and I made this video about GCY’s partnership with Malaria No More. Please spread the word, today, so someday malaria is no more.

If you’re up to it, try spending 10 minutes today, just 10 minutes, telling someone new every 45 seconds that today is World Malaria Day, and that a baby just died somewhere of Malaria.

10 minutes.
14 people.
Maybe one of them will be, or inspire, the next Adam Ndiaye.