A close call with malaria

To commemorate World Malaria Day and World Immunization Week, our partners in African research centers who are working on a malaria vaccine have been writing about their personal experiences with malaria. Mbarwa Kivuyo is a communications officer at the Ifakara Health Institute in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. 

Malaria is a disease of the poor. A poor family cannot afford a decent home. A poor family cannot afford good treatment. In Tanzania, one of the least developed countries in Africa, virtually no family has escaped the reach of malaria.

At the age of 14, I nearly died of malaria.

A treatment backfires

Mbarwa Kivuyo. Photo: PATH/Enok Kindo.

My father was a ward attendant in a village dispensary, so he kept different drugs at home. One day my mother observed in me the telltale signs of the onset of malaria. Out of ignorance, she overdosed me with chloroquine drugs, the first-line treatment for malaria in Tanzania in those years.

After noticing that my condition was rapidly weakening, she grabbed a calabash full of fresh milk and gave it to me to drink as she spoke soothing words to the spirits. I was lucky—the milk made me vomit and relieved me from the overdose. My mother didn’t recognize that it was the fresh milk that saved me. She thought the gods had intervened.

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I will never forget this experience and the impact malaria has on so many lives in Tanzania.

If a vaccine were available, the malaria landscape of Tanzania would certainly change. Tanzanian children would be healthier, human labor productivity would increase, and performance in schools would improve. And perhaps the spirits could take a rest.

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