The biggest killer in sub-Saharan Africa and in many other places in the world, way ahead of AIDS or famine, is malaria. Without wanting to be sensationalist, it kills a child in Africa every 30 seconds, Africa accounts for 90% of deaths from it as it is home to the most deadly form and it is responsible for 20% of the deaths of under 5s and 10% of all deaths in Africa. South Africa included football fans.
Cheryl Cole (or Tweedy or whatever she's called these days) and her problems will hopefully place something of a spotlight on malaria and help reduce the incidence of this preventable disease - I know, most diseases are preventable one way or another, but this one can really be prevented cheaply.
So what is malaria?
We know that malaria is caused by a mosquito bite. The parasite enters the blood stream and can be in the liver within 30 minutes. The parasite then starts reproducing and gets into the blood stream and the blood cells where it reproduces again. The infected blood cells then burst which affects the healthy ones....well, you get the picture.
So we've established that it can be pretty dangerous and you really don't want to get it. If you go on a gap year, sabbatical or just on holiday, there are some simple and let's face it, sensible things you can do to avoid coming a cropper like poor old Cheryl did.
Check where you're going and get protected
Malaria is endemic across most of Africa and particularly Sub-Saharan Africa, parts of South America, the Indian sub-continent and South-East Asia. If you're going to any of those places get down to your doctor's surgery well before you go and get some malaria pills. Otherwise, there's plenty of travel centres, clinics or consultancies you could visit. If you're in Devon for example, go to the Travel Health Consultancy in Exeter.
Take the pills
You should take them before you go AND after you come back, just like antibiotics. The parasite can remain dormant in you for quite a while and could quite easily creep up on you when you expect it the least. You should also take them on time and don't miss a dose, especially if you're a child under 16 or pregnant. Your doctor will tell you what to do. If you don't take your pills, or worse, you don't even get any, you'll be considered to be reckless and won't be covered by your travel insurance.
Use a mosquito net at night
Obviously the best way to avoid malaria is not to get bitten in the first place. And the best way of doing that is to use a mosquito net. They're cheap and fit into your luggage very easily.
Protect your room and protect yourself
- Mosquitos don't like insect repellent, there's a highly popular brand available across Southern Africa called Doom (great brand name!). Spray it liberally.
- You can also put a mosquito coil under your bed, they're effective for up to eight hours.
- Where you can, stay in rooms with screens on the windows and/or air conditioning and don't forget to switch off the lights, mosquitos like lights.
- They like perfume and after-shave as well, so if you have a tendency to splash it all over, don't. You'll become a mosquito magnet.
- Wear long sleeves, especially at dawn and dusk.
- If you do fall ill, trust local doctors, they've got loads of experience.
Whilst you're at it, take a few mosquito nets with you
As I said, they're cheap and easy to put into your luggage. And you might save a life....