April 9, 2013 |

Malaria, a curse across generations

Man standing with hands on hips, smiling while looking into the camera.
Callisto Sekeleza. Photo: PATH/Enok Kindo.

To commemorate World Malaria Day and World Immunization Week, our partners in African research centers who are working on a malaria vaccine have been writing about their personal experiences with malaria. Today, Callisto Sekeleza, formerly a communications officer in Lilongwe, Malawi, tells his story. 

I view my vacations as an adventure and an opportunity to share good times with friends and family. However, my last vacation, thanks to malaria, was more crisis than adventure, and nearly a sad occasion rather than a happy one.

I traveled the 240 kilometers from Lilongwe, where I work, to my home village, the town of Balaka. It is located in one of the hottest districts in Malawi, which, during the rainy season, makes it very conducive for swarms of mosquitoes to breed.

Granny has malaria

I was full of expectations that my aging granny would be brimming with joy to welcome her grandson, as she always is. Instead, I found her feebly lying on a mat in the living room. She hardly recognized me on first glance, and the malarial pain could be read on her wrinkled face.

“She started showing signs of malaria yesterday,” my Aunt Renata told me, “and I went to our community health assistant who gave me some medication. Things are not yet all right, but I can see some improvement, and we believe she will be better soon.”

Aunt Renata added in a matter-of-fact way that she is “used to seeing granny suffer from malaria” every year around March and April. I knew from my personal experience she was right. However, I reacted when she said she is “used to” seeing granny suffer. I believe malaria needs to be eradicated and we should never accept that people suffer from the malaise caused by the disease.

A household gone haywire

Typically, there are only three people living at my granny’s homestead because most of the family has moved off to urban areas. So when granny gets sick, things really go haywire.

My aunt and a younger cousin literally have to carry the old woman in and out of the house for basic functions. When my cousin goes to school, my aunt calls for the neighbors living 200 meters away to come and help. When the neighbors are not available, my cousin must stay home and miss classes to help my aunt and granny with the household chores.

Is this really something we Africans should get used to?

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