The Day I Felt Like Death

I was in my mid-twenties, still an unqualified accountant, when I blagged my way on a three-month secondment to Malawi. The internal advert hadn’t been specific and only said that I had to be a ‘senior’ and nothing about being qualified. Three months away seemed like a good idea.

My only concern was that it had to be sorted within two weeks. We had to agree everything, and I needed to be on the plane to Blantyre before my senior manager returned from his summer holiday. I knew if he got wind of it my holiday, I mean my secondment, would be off. I was in the middle of all his autumn planning.

As I was sitting on the veranda of the Blantyre Social Club, sipping a beer after work, watching the sun go down over the horizon, I am sorry, but I didn’t think of his problems.

My second trip was about 6 years later, and I was on a one-year World Bank contract. I know I have written a little about this before but once in Africa, there is always a small part of your heart left there for safe keeping.

I had a large house and kept a small extended family with various gardening and other jobs. My house boy was Marco and I trusted him with everything. He was always deeply offended if I went anywhere near the kitchen as that was his area. It did mean that a beer from the fridge or a sudden urge for a cup of coffee was delayed by 30 minutes as first I located him and then he made and brought it to me. My Mum on a visit never got used to having to sit in the lounge waiting for her drink. She always wanted to help.

Not all my family were as conscientious as Marco. There was many a time I drove home at night to find the security guard sleeping. It was a cruel game to sneak up on him in the dark and wake him with a loud,’booo’.

My five days of hell started with what I thought was a cold but quickly it was flu but, of course, it wasn’t and on the second day I couldn’t get out of bed. The office arranged for a doctor to come and see me, and it is not just passing time that means I can’t remember what he said. I was in a state of delirium. The fever was raging but I did hear him say, malaria.

I had been taking the tablets although I might have missed one or two. The SOBO tonic, a frequent accompaniment to the copious amounts of Malawi Gin I was drinking was heavy in quinine. I should have been safe but clearly, something had gone wrong.

Before and since, like everyone, I have had flu. To understand how malaria feels, multiply the effects of any flu you have had by 10. It was and is still the worst I have felt. Hot, sweaty, restless, fever, hallucinations, joint pains, in and out of sleep. I felt as though this was the end. There were moments when I wanted it to be the end. It was that bad.

Later, I was told that it was only a mild case and really, I was very lucky. I nearly thumped the doctor when he said that. I didn’t feel at all lucky.

The episode lasted just over a week and I was back at work although a little lighter. I had lost over a stone in weight.

On reflection I was lucky. I was a very fit man with the all the local medical support I could need, but today, thirty years on, a child in Africa dies from malaria every 45 seconds. That’s over 700,000 lives lost a year.

Malaria is both preventable and treatable.

The following is from the Gates Foundation website.

Malaria occurs in nearly 100 countries worldwide, exacting a huge toll on human health and imposing a heavy social and economic burden in developing countries, particularly in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. An estimated 207 million people suffered from the disease in 2012, and about 627,000 died. About 90 percent of the deaths were in Sub-Saharan Africa, and 77 percent were among children under age 5.

Malaria is caused by parasites transmitted by mosquitoes. Even in relatively mild cases, it can cause high fever, chills, flu-like symptoms, and severe anaemia. These symptoms can be especially dangerous for pregnant women and young children who are experiencing the disease for the first time. Severe malaria can cause lifelong intellectual disabilities in children, and malaria’s economic impact is estimated to cost billions of dollars in lost productivity every year.

In the past dozen years, the number of new cases has declined by 25 percent globally, and deaths from malaria have fallen by 42 percent. These gains have been made through a combination of interventions, including timely diagnosis and treatment using reliable diagnostic tests and effective drugs; indoor spraying with safe, long-lasting insecticides; and the use of bed nets treated with long-lasting insecticide to protect people from mosquito bites at night.

Malaria is preventable and treatable, and history shows that it can be eliminated. Less than a century ago, it was prevalent across the world, including Europe and North America. Malaria was eliminated in most of Western Europe by the mid-1930s; the United States achieved elimination of the disease in 1951.

This is not an abstract essay just pointing out a problem but it is a call to action.

This is Sport Relief week and a major use of the money you give will be to reduce the impact of malaria. Sport Relief cash will help make those malaria morbidity statistics a thing of the past by providing simple but crucial ways to fight the disease; like malaria nets and information on how best to use them and rapid testing kits so those who do become infected can get the help they need quickly.

Log these statistics again. 700,000 people, mostly children die each year. I felt like death when I had malaria. For one child every 45 seconds it is worse. It is death.

Again, I am asking you to send money to Sport Relief to reduce the impact of malaria. If ever there was a good reason, this is it.


You’re about to do something incredible…