THE BLOG

Thousands Who Have Fled Conflict In North Eastern Nigeria Now Face Another Threat Of Dying Of Malaria

18/08/2017 10:27
Ian Walton via Getty Images

I am a proud Liverpudlian of Nigerian origin. As a trained athlete, I have been competing all my life and now I am about to sign up to a very different kind of race - to end malaria.

I have just become a special ambassador for Malaria No More UK, a small but ambitious charity who also have a very focused end game, of ending malaria within a generation.

As I started writing this blog, I heard that millions were at risk from a malaria outbreak in my parent's birth country. Following more than eight years of conflict in Borno state in north-eastern Nigeria, some 3.7 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance and all are at risk for malaria. The World Health Organization estimates that every week, around 8500 people are infected with the disease in the region. With the high transmission season for malaria lasting through October, it is expected these numbers will rise. In Borno state, WHO estimates more than half of deaths recorded are currently due to malaria, more than all other causes of death combined, including cholera, measles and hepatitis E.

Malaria is both preventable and treatable, yet despite this it causes 429,000 deaths globally. Having the disease is terrifying and I talk from experience.

Ten months before the Rio Olympics, a trip to my late father's village of Nri in Nigeria changed my life. I was bitten by an anopheles malaria carrying mosquito. I had taken anti malaria tablets and as an athlete am physically fit and healthy, so what happened next was totally unexpected.

When I got back to the UK and before resuming training, I went on holiday to the Dominican Republic. That's when I started to feel dizzy. At night I'd start shivering and would go from having hot sweats to cold sweats. Back in the UK my symptoms worsened.

I managed to drive from my training ground in Loughborough to a specialist hospital in St John's Wood, before collapsing in the hospital car park. Malaria was diagnosed. During the next few hours my body started shaking uncontrollably and the pain in my brain and forehead were unbearable.

My temperature was now 39 degrees so to cool my body down my bed was filled with ice. Exhausted, I wasn't allowed to sleep in case I lost consciousness. I remember thinking 'I am going to die.' It was only after I was transferred to a tropical diseases unit at University College London (UCL) hospital, that I started to make a slow recovery. But upmost in my mind were the Rio Olympics, and all the hard work and training over the last four years. My ambition lay in tatters as I could barely walk let alone run a professional race.

But never say never that is my moto. I had lost all of my strength, and was unable to walk a short distance without collapsing, but I was determined to get fit again. I began with a daily 15 metres walk around the ward, trailing my drip. Gradually I jogged a few steps, but it took many weeks before she could start doing 150m, 200m, 350m. In an amazing 40 weeks I moved from having a serious life threatening illness to the Olympic podium, where I won a Bronze medal as part of the Team GB 4x400m team, one of the proudest moments of my life so far.

I am lucky to have survived malaria when so many don't. Knowing that a child dies every two minutes from the same disease I pulled through is heart-breaking. I want to see other people given the same chance of survival with the availability of life-saving interventions. I want the young children living in Nigeria and other malaria affected countries to have the same opportunities as me to fulfil their dreams and ambitions. UK Aid has made a huge impact and helped save over 6 million lives since 2000.

But we are at a turning point to make sure this progress continues. Next year the UK Government has a unique opportunity to put malaria at the heart of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting it is hosting in London where bold action by leaders home and away would help keep us on track to end malaria within a generation. We have to make sure no one dies from a mosquito bite.

Follow Anyika on Twitter: @annyonuora and Instagram: annyonuora

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