April 25 is World Malaria Day. In 2013, there were approximately 198 million cases of malaria and 584,000 deaths due to the disease worldwide. Ninety per cent of all malaria deaths occur in Africa. Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders (MSF) treated 1,871,200 people for malaria in 2013.
MSF Canada board member Chris Houston contracted malaria in 2010 while helping MSF respond to floods in Nigeria. He describes the experience, and compares it to the reality lived by many of MSF's patients around the world, in the video above. He also told his story in a blog post, originally published on the MSF Blog site on October 19, 2010
By Chris Houston
I headed to Canada for my holidays full of enthusiasm, ready to meet the parents of my long-suffering girlfriend. Turns out it wasn’t just enthusiasm I was full of. I was unlucky enough to have 2 different types of malaria at the same time, including the most dangerous Falciparum strain.
At first I didn’t even realize what was happening, I was tired, which was expected after a crazy month of the flooding. So I slept all day, and blamed the chills on the Toronto climate. After a few days I became convinced I had a tropical bug and emailed our Medical Coordinator, who spelled it out very clearly that I had malaria and was go to straight to hospital.
One night, I was sure I was going to die, I wrote my will in my head ... the pain in my head was so severe, that I was convinced the malaria had gone cerebral and I wasn’t going to make it.
“Where does it hurt?”, the doctor asked. Everywhere. "On a scale of one to 10, how much does it hurt?" What’s a 10? "Ten is the worst pain you've ever had." Then it’s 10. "Has anyone you work with had similar symptoms?" Yes, plenty of them. The doctor laughed at me when I asked if I could go home, pointing to the soaked mattress where I had laid down for about five minutes. After 100 more questions and a blood test, I was diagnosed with severe malaria and it was clear I was going nowhere.
I spent four nights in hospital (I thought it was three until I checked the records to write this blog), drifting in and out of consciousness. The malaria, or the cure, I’m not sure, plays tricks on your mind. It makes you paranoid. When I read through the text messages I sent from my bed, it is clear that I was skirting around the edges of sanity as I wrote them.
One night, I was sure I was going to die, and I wrote my will in my head. My girlfriend had to use the money in my bank to fly my body to Scotland and donate the rest. I didn’t have the energy to put it to paper. But the pain in my head was so severe, that I was convinced the malaria had gone cerebral and I wasn’t going to make it.
I didn’t read a book, I didn’t switch on my computer, I just slept and wished away the pain. On the last day I had the energy to take in my surroundings: Staff brought and took away food three times a day, cleaners made sure the place was spotless, there was a TV on the wall, I shared a washroom with my one roommate, there was a Coke machine in the corridor and a fridge of juice to help myself to.
I imagined the typical MSF malaria patient experience in Nigeria. Then I imagined the typical non-MSF patient experience. Quite different. I had survived one of the world’s biggest killers, and it made me very happy to be alive. I guess I had been taking that for granted.