Fiona Kobusingye

My mobile phone rang. Another nephew was down with malaria, a friend told me. Lying in his hospital bed, quinine running through his veins, Emmanuel felt the pain wracking his body. I knew it was bad, because every time I get malaria I endure the same agony and treatments.

Emma was lucky. A week earlier, he had arranged goat exports to Saudi Arabia. Although his meagre earnings would now pay hospital bills, instead of buying things he and his family desperately needed, at least he would still have his weakened body, his life and another chance.

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Every day, a million Africans are stricken by this horrible disease. The possibility of sudden death is so real that all other considerations are minor, and people just find any available money for medical bills.

Malaria has been with us for thousands of years, yet ignorance about it is still rampant. Some rural Africans still resort to ancient techniques and even associate it with witchcraft practiced against them by their neighbours. They treat victims with drum sounds, herbal mixtures and restrictions against certain foods. Naturally, many die under such care, generating vicious hostility between victims’ families and suspected “spell casters,” with disputes sometimes erupting in violence.

And so, one by one by a million, malaria exacts its toll. Meanwhile, too many people who could make a difference simply attend conferences, talk, write reports, and distribute educational materials and bed nets. Environmentalists rant about the supposed risks of insecticides, but never mention their obvious benefits: preventing disease and saving lives. Businessmen worry about Europeans blocking exports if Africans use DDT or other insecticides.

It’s the Western equivalent to drums and not eating too many mangoes. And our children keep dying.

I wish they could see what I have seen, and hear the stories I have heard. Mothers whose babies’ lives were snuffed out while they were holding them in their arms. Fathers who were so sick with malaria that they could barely stand, but still had to toil in fields every day to feed their families.

Pregnant women in villages I visit, who struggle to collect water and firewood – whose bodies are infested with malaria parasites that are just waiting to finish their incubation and strike them down. Children whose minds were destroyed by cerebral malaria. Women (like me, when I was young) whose marriages were ruined because the disease killed their babies, and their husbands left them.

Fiona Kobusingye

Fiona Kobusingye is coordinator of Congress of Racial Equality Uganda and the Kill Malarial Mosquitoes Now Brigade.

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