The monthly gifts we receive towards our medical missions program are the lifeblood of our work here in the village, where many impoverished people often have to choose between food and medicine. Everyone likes to hear about the impact of their generosity. Photos and stories are a great way to give that feedback, and we strive to let folks know that what you are doing makes a difference! But sometimes at the end of the month, as we try to faithfully report how many and what maladies have been treated, it seems that everyone “just” has malaria. Perhaps there’s really nothing glamorous about treating a bunch of people for malaria, but don’t think it’s nothing. Come with me as I introduce you to Silvia, the daughter of one of the wazee (“old men”) in our fellowship.
Silvia exhibited symptoms of malaria in 2010; she was a normal, 19 year-old village girl who lived at home and helped with the daily tasks of fetching water, making meals, and whatever else needed to be done. At the time, money simply wasn’t available to treat her, but that so often happens here. Many don’t have 100 shillings ($1) to buy malaria medicine, so they go to the local shop and get a small package of two “Mara Moja” tablets (the equivalent of Excederin). The fever goes down temporarily, the body aches subside, and if you asked them if they took medicine, they will say, “Yes!” But the malaria is still there. The fever may never go down below 100 degrees Farenheit, even with the Mara Moja. But it’s better than it was, it allows for some sleep, and things seem better for a few hours. Then what? This cycle can go on for days, even a week or more.
Such was the case with Silvia. And unfortunately, because of the delay in proper treatment, her malaria took a turn for the worse…it crossed the blood/brain barrier and became “cerebral malaria.” Treatment, in this case, is usually too little and too late. But she lived, praise the Lord. Even so, now she has frequent epileptic seizures and takes daily pills (when the family can afford the 90 shillings to get a month’s worth of medication). She has also visited our District Hospital more than once for psychological examinations and medications. On good days, she can function in a normal manner. But there are many not-so-good days. Her father has sadly reported that “she only wants to get married and raise a family like other girls her age!” but he knows that, because of her physical and psychological deficiencies, she will be at home with him until he can no longer care for her. And then what?
Another young mother of two small children in our community was likewise affected by cerebral malaria and, as a result, abandoned by her husband. She struggled to care for the children on her own for a time, not realizing her new deficiencies. Thankfully, eventually she returned to the family home, where the grandmother brought her now-malnourished children to KDM. After emergency medical interventions, they are now ongoing recipients of monthly, nutrient-dense food packages through our malnourished children’s food program. (This is another significant area where our donors don’t get dramatic feedback…but they are faithfully, quietly making a difference!)
These are the effects of untreated malaria.
We thought of Silvia recently when our own 8 year-old son, Micah, came down with malaria. We are fortunate that at the first sign of fever, we can take him to the local clinic for a test. He got an immediate injection of malaria meds (the first of three daily injections) and a Diclofenac injection for his fever, as he was nauseous and vomiting and couldn’t take oral medication. We were thankful to see improvement within just an hour, and saw a light at the end of the tunnel when he was able to enjoy spaghetti supper with the family without vomiting. But by the next morning his fever was back up and his nausea had returned. We went back to the clinic for his second injection, and he immediately fell asleep on the couch when we returned home. I (Cindy) was working in the kitchen preparing lunch a couple hours later when Micah came in to talk to me. I could see that he looked a little “out of it”–his eyes didn’t seem to be focusing on me. His voice wavered, and I realized quickly that he wasn’t even speaking in coherent sentences. He would enunciate a few words, then falter off into mumbling. Trying again, he seemed to be trying to communicate something totally different, but still with the same result. I put my hands on his head, prayed for him, and sent him back to the couch with some rehydration drink, hoping for the best.
The rest of the afternoon passed with some uncertainty, we being very concerned at the possibility of cerebral malaria and what it could mean. However, there was not much that could be done outside of prayer, as he had already begun treatment. Thankfully, by the next morning, Micah had returned to himself. After his third injection, he was back to complete health. But it’s not lost on us that the outcome could have been far different. It was for Silvia, and for others that we know in our village. And, if we did not have faithful donors assisting with timely malaria treatment for our community and folks in our fellowships, the statistics in our area might well be far worse.
Doctors at our partner clinic, Solonamu Medical Centre, helped us to understand the risks associated with malaria a little better. They acknowledge malaria as perhaps the worst disease in Africa. The World Health Organization reported almost a half-million deaths from the disease in sub-Saharan Africa in 2015, the majority of them children. Severe malaria, and its permanent health effects, typically occur as a result of delayed treatments, particularly if the delay is a week or more (which we have found is not unusual). Cerebral malaria is among the complications that arise. Other complications can include liver or kidney failure, or rupture of the spleen. Untreated malaria can lead to chronic re-infection, as the parasites “hide” in the liver and re-emerge at a later point in their reproductive cycle.
Aside from the physical effects of the disease, there a couple of other problems associated with malaria: one, folks typically can’t afford both a malaria test AND medicine, so they usually self-diagnose and self-treat. The over-use of certain drugs (even when malaria is not actually present) has led to resistance to some types of anti-malaria drugs commonly used for treatment.
Secondly, when people are affected with malaria and don’t get treatment, mosquitoes can spread the infection to others. This is significant to everyone, but particularly to pregnant women, as malaria infection during pregnancy can lead to many ill effects for the developing baby, if an immediate miscarriage does not result. (This is particularly relevant to me, as one of our babies became a miscarriage statistic due to one of my bouts of malaria a couple years ago.)
However, as more and more people in a community are able to get proper diagnosis and treatment, not only is their individual health improved and risks avoided, but fewer people in their community will be infected with the disease. Though it is unlikely that malaria can be eradicated in endemic regions, the effects can certainly be ameliorated. Lab confirmation of malaria and timely treatment are vital! This is the work of KDM: referring the sick to the clinic, and getting them treated as soon as possible when symptoms of malaria occur. Sending someone to the clinic, getting them tested, and medicine in the form of tablets or injections might only cost $8 or $10 (with the cost of transportation by piki piki included). We rely on our donors to accomplish this every month…so know that when we are “just treating malaria” (even if there aren’t any dramatic stories to tell), you are making a significant difference in someone’s quality of life, and in the overall health of a community at risk. God bless you for your heart and your generosity toward this work.
If you are not giving regularly toward KDM’s Urgent needs/Medical fund and would like to, feel free to visit www.KingdomDriven.org/donate.