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Nov
14

The Malaria Debate


Part of my daily health regiments  here is taking anti-malaria medication. Since I have been in Ghana, I have been a part of many discussions around taking medication as a preventative measure. There are two main controversies around these prophylactics. The first is a public health issue. I discovered this when talking to a friend who lives in Benin. When I told him I was taking doxycycline he was almost angry with me, saying that the World Health Organization has recommended people traveling to malaria infected countries NOT to take medications because the meds make mosquitos resistant to the drug and infect more people. Residence of Ghana do not take malaria meds, and this fact combined the meds can have on populations of mosquitos can be a detriment to the general population.

The other issue is that over the long term, malaria meds can be harmful to the human body, specifically to the liver. For women it can be harsh on their body chemistry because it is an antibiotic and throws of the bacteria balance in their reproductive organs. When I was in Accra visiting expat friends who have been here for months or years longer than I have, I asked how long they chose to take the meds and every one of them said to not stay on them longer than three months. I will be coming up on my three month mark on the 18th of this month. I won’t go off them until mid December, though, as my mom is visiting until then and I would hate to be sick while she is here. Hmm, on the other hand, if I do get sick, I will of course want my mom! LOL. But in all seriousness, I do have some things to consider and I know that people have LOTS of opinions about it.

I do also feel that for people who do not fully understand malaria, there are lots of assumptions about what it is. Many people tend to believe that once you have it, you have it forever. This is definitely not true. The reason people believe this is because sometimes after treatment, malaria can still be in your system, but with a second treatment, it should be out of your system. There are four types of malaria. One is deadly, the other three are not, but all can be treated if caught in time. Symptoms include fever, vomiting, chills, severe headache, and achy muscles. Sounds like fun, right?!

So anyway, I have some thinking to do about how to approach this. Regardless of whether I take the meds or not, I always wear bug spray and take vitamin B1, which helps repel mosquitos. Thanks for reading my thought process and cross your fingers I remain malaria free for the remainder of my time in country!

3 comments

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  1. Crista Galen Tompkins says:

    Sy,

    As possibly one of your oldest, longest friends, and working in the medical field, it is my medical, professional opionion that you stay on the meds through december as was your original plan. Usually we recommend that patients stay on the medication through their trip but at you said your staying for a year! and being that it can possibly do damage to the liver is another problem. I will ask the doctor that I work for what she thinks as well. Hope you are doing great!

  2. Lisa says:

    Is there an alternative medicine that is not an antibiotic? I can’t imagine taking an antibiotic for three months, much less one year!

  3. vieve says:

    Syambra,

    Your Benin contact makes a point, yet I agree with your friend to stay on the meds AT LEAST through your 3rd month. Things to keep in mind 1) your proximity to equipped clinic, 2) how ABLE you are to get yourself to a clinic IF you feel lousy 3) have the people you live/stay agree to support you getting to a clinic, etc.

    What comes to mind most is how sick one can get from malaria: NYTimes journalist, Nick Kristoff wrote about malaria and George Cloney getting malaria. A 20′s something gal blogged about choosing to not take meds and live as a “local” and 5-7 yrs later is still dealing on a daily basis with the impact of having her case escalate to cerebral malaria.

    Ghana is great! I wish you good health there and where you go next.

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