Anti-malaria pills + deet ≠ invincibility against malaria

I had been looking forward to going to the southern city of Mbeya even before I arrived in Tanzania. Mbeya is known for it’s cooler climate and lush vegetation. So when it turned out that SELFINA had branches in Mbeya and the surrounding areas and that journaling needed to implemented in those branches I enthusiastically bought my ticket for a 12 hour bus ride that would take me there.

The first few days were great! I was teaching them how to conduct, write and post journals and everything was rolling according to plan. Then, one morning I woke up with a mind splitting headache, severe eye pain, and flashes of fever and chills. I had no idea what was wrong with me. I honestly thought it was from being surrounded by electronic devices too much. I was thinking to myself, I should have listened to my mother and not have sat at so close to the tv screen all those year, should have taken more breaks to rest my eyes at work, etc. The pain was so severe that I broke down in tears just climbing the stairs to my room …

But as I had no idea what was wrong with me, I proceeded to go to work like it was any other day. I had mentioned to a couple of people at the office I had a huge headache but did not make a big deal about it. I proceeded with my day and taught one of the branch managers from a nearby region the process of conducting journal surveys. After completing the training I had to excuse myself, as the pain was too much bear. I had contacted some friends who advised me that it may be malaria, which I thought would be impossible for me to get as I was taking anti-malarial dugs and spraying myself with deet every day. I found myself walking to a nearby dispensary down the road from where I was staying to get tested for malaria, in my mind, to cross that off the list of things I did not have.

In the front was a pharmacy and they escorted me to a room in the back where there was a doctor sitting at a desk in a bare off-white room texting on his phone. I sat down next to him and told him my symptoms, he took my blood pressure, and he advised me it was probably malaria, however, they would need to test my blood to confirm. I thought that was a very good sign and a vote for confidence for this place. He then proceeded to inform me that the blood test would not be performed until later that evening or the next day as there was no electricity to run the test. Mbeya and the surrounding region was in its second week of no electricity due to a transformer room blowing up at the one and only electricity provider in the country (in the SELFINA Mbeya office, we were lucky to have a generator to use during the day).

As I have no medical background, I of course had my concerns. I probably asked this man 50 times in 50 different ways if my blood specimen would last that long without refrigeration. He reassured me several times that it would be okay and just as they were about to draw blood, the Mbeya SELFINA branch manager, Mr. Kibassa, a bear of a man, barges through the door and tells them to stop.

He apparently learned I went home after not feeling well and went to check up on me at the place I was staying where they informed I had come here to be tested. He basically whisked me away and we arrived at this other clinic, one that happens to have a SELFINA client running the pharmacy, but more importantly to me at the time, solar panels which enable them to run my test now. I go into the cluttered office of the doctor, describe my symptoms again, get my blood pressure taken again, and get sent to a lab of sorts where they try to distract me as they draw my blood (I get quite queasy with needles). 30 minutes later, malaria positive test results in one hand and malaria fighting medicine in the other hand, I leave the clinic happy to know my illness isn’t from an overdose of staring at screens all of my life but something supposedly curable in 3 days.

I wish I could tell you that it was a painless and speedy recovery in 3 days, but it hasn’t been. I still have pain in my head and eye a week later. But I’m trying to take it as easy as possible and think of the positive side of things such as now I can relate a bit more with people here, most of whom have had malaria at least once in their life.

Note: I later learned that the incubation period is about 14 days, so I must have been bitten when I was back in Dar es Salaam


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