THE BLOG

If We Keep Spreading the Message About Malaria, We Will Keep Saving Even More Lives

25/04/2016 15:17

My son, Emmanuel, was four years old when he told me one day that he wasn't feeling well. First he complained of a headache. Soon after he said: "Mummy, my stomach is painful." He slept under a mosquito net at home each night and I close all my windows so I didn't think it could be malaria at first. But working as a nurse at Iyolwa Clinic in Eastern Uganda, I knew that I couldn't take that risk. Early treatment is critical.

We took him to the clinic and, sure enough, he tested positive for malaria. It shocked me because I'm well educated in the disease and know all the risks. We take precautions inside our home, we never sleep outside and we don't have any stagnant water around.

But then I realised how he must have caught it. In the evenings, I used to sit outside with Emmanuel but he didn't always wear long clothing. Something as simple as that could have put him at risk. I'm a nurse, but still my son suffers from malaria. It just shows you how easy it is to catch. Mosquitos can bite anyone.

Thankfully, I also know how easy it is to cure with the right treatment.

Emmanuel received oral medication for three days and he quickly improved. It is now six months later and Emmanuel is back to full health and a happy little boy. I know that not everyone is so lucky. A child still dies from malaria every two minutes, and 70% of all deaths from the disease are children under five - just like my little Emmanuel.

I've also had malaria. I've not had it for about five or six years now, but I used to catch it at least once a year. That might sound shocking but the reality is that in the district where I work, most residents will contract malaria at some point as they are exposed to nearly 600 infectious mosquito bites every year.

Malaria remains one of the world's biggest killers. In 2015, an estimated 438,000 people died from it worldwide. I know from experience that you can't always avoid getting the disease, but with some simple steps, you can make sure it's not fatal.

This is the third year I've been working at Iyolwa and we treat around 150 patients a day. At least three or four of them test positive for malaria.

I've seen a great change since I started working here. Before there were rats, it smelled, there was no light so sometimes we had to work in darkness.

The first year that we came, we were not motivated.

But since we have been supported by Malaria Consortium, which has been funded by Comic Relief since 2009, things have dramatically improved.

The clinic is much more efficient now. We work without any complaints, we have job security, a good management structure that has encouraged us in our work and that has been a good change. I'm really so happy. My work is really going well.

When people come in to our medical centre, we always educate them about malaria. We advise them to avoid stagnant water, we encourage them to sleep under treated mosquito nets. We let them know that mosquitos will hang out in the bushes around their homes. We tell them to close the windows so that mosquitos can't get access into their homes and wear long clothing.

Education is so vital. When you give people help and tell them what the symptoms are and what to do if they feel ill, it not only prevents them from getting malaria in the first place but teaches them how to get the right treatment to save their lives.

From the time I started working as nurse I've not had any deaths from malaria, and the number of patients testing positive has dropped. During the first two years that I worked here, we would see 20 to 30 patients a day. But now the number keeps on reducing and we see three to four a day. The other day, we didn't even receive one patient with malaria which is a huge achievement. But I know that there is still a lot of work to do to make sure people are educated.

Every Friday, we invite the local youth to come to the centre and learn about how it is contracted, and what they can do to protect themselves and their families. If we keep spreading the message about malaria, we will keep saving even more lives.

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