Henry Got Malaria

 Posted by Matthew Cutler at 10:30 pm  Ghana
Feb 042013

Henry is one of those students who makes teaching a joy. This young man has a radiant smile and he is full of life. He is smart and bright and he asks good questions. Class is never dull when he is actively participating– he asks questions, challenges the other students to do well and he is funny. He usually has lots of energy. For these reasons and because he is such a nice kid, his classmates elected him “class prefect”, which is like the class president. Every day, Henry chooses who will be the “duster”– the one who erases the chalk board [less than glorious job]; he is the one who brings bags of water to the class thru-out the day; and he gets there early and stays late to make sure the classroom is set up just so. Ah, Henry– what a great kid.

Last week, Henry looked lethargic. He came to class with a look sleeve jacket, even though it was very hot and humid. He was shivering; obviously he had a fever. He looked pale and a bit pasty. His head was down on the desk during class and he fell asleep. “What’s wrong with Henry?”, I asked. Eunice responded: “He has malaria…” Malaria? Really? Wow. Henry piped up with his symptoms: fever, chills, vomiting, achy feeling, zero energy, etc. He went to the doctor and it was diagnosed. Wow– don’t people die from malaria? They do– but it is usually the very young and the very old or those who are not in great health before they contract the disease.

Malaria is a disease that runs rampant thru the African Continent. It is passed from mosquitoes to human beings. Not every mosquito is a carrier, thus not every bite or sting will lead to those symptoms. But it is a good probability that if you have malaria– that is how you got it. According to Evans Charwey [the master teacher], he believed that 60% of all students will get malaria while they are students. It is serious, he says, but they don’t die from it in PramPram– they just get really sick for a week or 2 or 3 or a month. They take some medicine and let the disease run its painful course. I wonder, is it really malaria or is like the flu in the US–some get the flu, others assume that they have the flu because they are just really sick. Regardless– malaria or not; flu or no flu– people get sick and sometimes they get really sick.  According to Ghana’s governmental reports, there were 442,000 reported cases in 2011 and it was down 350,000 in 2012. Most of the fatal cases were in the very young and the very old. This disease is serious stuff!

My physician back home was adamant about my protection from this disease. I take a pill daily — some of the side effects are kind of funky {nocturnal hallucinations– or better yet, really, really graphic nightmares; feelings of fogginess and lack of clear clarity are the big ones– I am lucky that I didn’t get any of those} and I need to take the pills each day and even after I get home for about a week or so. I put on bug repellant with attention to get every place– behind the ears and knees and wrists, anything that is expose. I do this 2 or 3 times a day. It is the serious bug repellent with a DET level that around 30%— view it as Deep Woods Off plus! I sleep in a mosquito netting. My windows have very secure screens and so does the screen door [which is outside the room door]. I sleep with a shirt on and make sure that fan is blowing on me thru-out the night [mosquitoes can’t land on you if they are being blown around]. All these preemptive measures have made my “malaria obsessed” and for got reasons, I don’t want to end up getting sick.

A few years back, NFTY [the Reform Jewish youth movement] and the Union for Reform Judaism became active sponsors in the “Nothing but Nets” drive, designed to provide mosquito nettings to children in Africa. It is amazing how few of the people here use the netting. I mentioned this to Pastor Manu– he agreed that it is surprising. He has one over his bed and his 1-year old grandson has one for his crib and one that covers him when he naps of the floor {it looks like he is a piece of cake under a glass covering– the ones you see in a bake shop!}. But his sons chose not to use them and his daughters say that they get tangled up in them. People around here told me that it is part of life in Africa, one lives here and one has to deal with it. But what about prevention? In a small fishing village, that means costs and that means people have to  choose to buy them.

This time of year, mosquitoes are not a huge problem. They are around, but not in large numbers. There are other bugs that sting and bite; there are ants that can nibble at your ankles if you are not careful. The really bad time for all of these bugs is during the rainy season– May and June, September and October. During those months, longs sleeves are worn and people become more diligent– some break out their nettings then.

Poor Henry…. he cannot stay home and be sick. He drags himself to school. It is alarming when I look at him and how sick he. It is reminder to take care; it is a good warning to me and to others. I just hope that he feels better soon and that others will heed the warning.


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