In Mozambique, and around the world, April is a month dedicated to raising awareness about malaria.
As Peace Corps Volunteers, we participate by giving lessons to our students about the causes and outcomes of malaria, as well as discussing preventative measures. In training, we learned the basics of HIV/AIDS and malaria and the effects they had on the country… but living in my small community I see the impacts of these diseases every day. Here, “malaria is the number one killer in Mozambique, accounting for 29% of all yearly deaths.” When I am at site, the statement “mosquitoes are the deadliest creatures on Earth, responsible for 830,000 deaths per year”, feels very, very close to home. Yet malaria, which is passed via the female Anopheles mosquito, is a parasitic infection that is both preventable and treatable! However, inequality in access to health care here, and in many African countries, makes it a deadly disease.
I think sharing statistics and the background story of malaria is GREAT. But I also feel it is important to understand the disease through the people, the lives, and the livelihoods that it effects. I want to share with you the story of Elias, my two-year-old host brother. Back in January of 2018, Elias caught malaria for the fifth time, tragically not an uncommon occurrence, and his condition worsened rather quickly. After nearly a week the hospital in my town felt they didn’t have the resources to help. In search of medicine, they travelled 200 kilometers to the provincial capital and the regional hospital. Unfortunately, the city, which has a population of over 300,000 people, didn't have the correct medication either.
By this point, four days after his diagnosis and with an immune system inundated by the malaria virus, an infection that developed in his stomach had spread to other parts of his body, causing him to be unable to walk or move. With no other options, my host mom, or mãe, Ludovina, and one of my cousins, Simplicia, went to stay in Malawi for what would eventually total up to a 6 week stay. My host mãe and cousin are both ‘domésticas’, meaning they don't have formal jobs but maintain family farms to bring in food for everyone. My mãe used all the little money the family had in savings to travel with and then treat Elias (they still have a pretty hefty bill to pay in Malawi). For two months my host family and I worried - it seemed that he would not get better even after finally beginning a treatment nearly a week and a half after he became sick. But begin to recover he did. Thankfully Elias is doing well and is slowly becoming healthy again! However, they are still making regular visits to Malawi to pick up more medicine to continue combating complications from the disease.
Elias is lucky. Malaria kills!
A simple, preventable, treatable disease can spiral out of control when people and communities don't have the necessary resources to adequately address the issue. While Elias’ story feels “extreme” I promise that it’s not. Babies and young children catch malaria easily and often. When I polled my students on how many had they themselves caught malaria – more than 50% raised their hands. When I then asked how many KNEW someone who had had malaria – a whole 100% of them raised their hands. This disease is a common and accepted part of life here in the province of Tete, in Mozambique, in southeastern Africa, and sadly in many parts of the world. According to the CDC, “malaria is considered a disease of poverty. Efforts that aim to create healthier, more productive lives for people living in poor malaria-endemic areas also help fight malaria”. But we can help. Many Volunteers spend their time raising awareness about malaria: participating in net distributions, reading to young kids about malaria, teaching teenagers how to make repellent, creating plays to share at school events about malaria, writing catchy songs to spread amongst the kids.