Why Not Malaria?

The ability to forget is one of the most fascinating aspects of human nature. Regardless of the source of the hurt, and no matter how blinding the pain or debilitating the trauma, as time goes on, we will heal and we will forget.

Another fascinating human trait, and one that seems to be of increasing relevance in this time of grief and death, is the human capacity for boredom or information fatigue. What if I told you that last year, there was a deadly illness that killed more than 405,000 people and infected up to 228 million more and that a disproportionate number of these deaths were from children, pregnant women, and the otherwise vulnerable.

What if I told you that this trend of death and disease was not a one-off, but, as a matter of fact, represented a significant improvement on the decades-long mortality from this disease in endemic countries.

What if I told you that this disease stretches its malign fingers across all aspects of its victim’s lives: keeping children out of school and ultimately stunting their growth and economic potential? That it forces their parents to dip into savings they had set aside for school fees, or for house rent, or for food? What if I told you that this disease is the most common cause of missed deadlines, and recurring hospital visits, and aborted dreams?

You’d probably heave a sigh of relief once I tell you the name of the disease, satisfied that it’s just malaria, not some newfangled respiratory disease with dubious origins. It is this dismissal, this human capacity to normalize the unusual and gloss over the absurd as long as it’s chronic, that might doom us all.

The global COVID-19 pandemic is a relatively new event in the world’s collective memory, and it is understandable that it holds such a prominent place in the minds and actions of governments worldwide. It is, after all, a worldwide issue, not one restricted to the poorer countries in sub-Saharan Africa, and its economic impact has been more dramatic, if not as abiding or insidious.

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With all this said, as individuals, caregivers and potential victims of either disease, it is important that we understand just what we are dealing with, and the ways in which both malaria and COVID-19 may present in individuals.

For example, these are complaints which individuals may present within malaria:

  • Weakness
  • Fever
  • Headaches
  • Chills

And these are complaints that people with COVID-19 may have:

  • Weakness
  • Fever
  • Cough
  • Vomiting

As you can see, they often present similarly, leaving the physician with the uphill task of figuring out which is which. These are the facts, as corroborated by data and historical trends, and they represent the harsh reality in which we currently live. We are beset on all sides by diseases clamoring for our attention and our lives, and as humans with not only the capacity to forget but also the magnificent ability to remember, it is our responsibility to prioritize the right ones.

So before you reach for the phone to dial the NCDC help-line, or start to panic when you have a fever, why not run a test for malaria and rule out the more common illness.

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