By the pricking of my thumbs

Sign on the wall of the clinic

Something very wicked indeed… I walk to the local Baptist clinic in Senga Bay, Malawi, where we’re staying, to get tested for malaria. It’s a place staffed by friendly, smiling people, who are delighted (in the nicest possible way) to see a white visitor. The doctor is summoned, and he writes a prescription for the lab. I walk two doors to the lab, where I encounter a couple of smart guys in lab coats, who talk me through the 4 different types of malarial parasite and various strains – two of which have only emerged in the past 3 months – they will be hunting for in my blood.

Before the wildlife search begins, they need blood, and there’s much excitement over who will prick the end of my finger with a needle.

All they need is one drop on the slide, which is dipped first in blue food colouring and then red, to disguise the red corpuscles and illuminate the parasite chromatin. Then it’s time to look through the microscope.

After the build-up, I’m almost disappointed when we see no parasites. Of course, relief kicks in a few seconds later, tinged with a bit of doubt. If it’s not malaria, what is it that’s giving me fevers, exhaustion and body aches?

The doctor smiles and shrugs. I pay up (around $1) and leave.

Next day I get confirmation: it’s malaria. The reason it didn’t show was because I have been taking my prophylaxis every day as if my life depends on it (which it does), and the tablets are masking the symptoms. More than 7,000 people a year die of malaria in Malawi, and I certainly don’t want to be one of them.

I am taking LA, the new artemisinin combination therapy (ACT) in high doses to cure it, and then will be 100% better, I’m told.

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