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Notes from the Field – Malaria in Santa Barbara and Uganda

The last number of weeks have been a bit of a haze as I have been recovering from a nasty bout of malaria. It has been over 20 years since the last time I got it and I was not expecting to get it again. I got older and smarter, no more cute little dresses at dinner time when the mosquitos come out. On my last work trip to Uganda I spent a night in Lamwo district, where we are working in a refugee camp for South Sudanese refugees. Malaria is a big problem in this area and I got it. Thankfully the symptoms didn’t start to show until the day after I got home to California. It began with a low fever and I thought, maybe it was just post-travel fatigue or the flu. As my conditions got worse we realized it was probably malaria and I ended up spending a few days at Cottage hospital here in Santa Barbara. Malaria is a serious disease and I am fortunate for the amazing care I got. It is a disease that completely takes over your body and mind. Someone asked me if I was bored, being down for almost 3 weeks. Bored didn’t ever enter my mind, I just wanted to fall asleep and never wake up to make it all go away.

I am lucky. I got superb care, I had access to the right medications, tests, IV’s, people to watch over me, feed me once I was ready for food again, help me go to the bathroom, sweet friends who put cold towels on my forehead – I am truly blessed and will have a full recovery.

Just a few weeks before this all happened I was meeting with one of our adult literacy groups outside the refugee camp. Close to 60 women were present. The topic of the day was HIV and malaria. A doctor from the local clinic was coming to give a presentation and to provide people access to both malaria and HIV testing. The dear doctor was late so I spent the time asking the women about their experience with malaria. My first question was “How many of you have had malaria?” People laughed as all hands were raised. I asked, “How many of you have had acute malaria?” Where you have to go to the hospital and get serious treatment- and can potentially die without timely medication. Close to all hands went up again. “How many of you have had children die from malaria?” More than 50% raised their hands and no one laughed.

Everyday hundreds of people die from malaria in Uganda. African Women Rising may not be directly involved in health care, but we do actively work in a number of other critical ways to tackle the problem. Our literacy centers provide important information on proper prevention, treatment and care. Our microfinance, savings and agricultural programs build peoples’ economic strength so that when they or their children get sick they have the resources to go to a clinic and are able to pay for the medication they need. Too many children die because their parents don’t have the money to take their children to get tested and the drugs they need once properly diagnosed. They often can’t afford to pay for the transport, or for the treatment and children end up dying from something that could be prevented if treated on time.

As I write this update I am still a bit fatigued. But I will be fine. My heart goes out to all parents who have lost children to preventable diseases. Please know that AWR will continue to work tirelessly to create a better future for the women in our programs and that with your continued support we can be the catalyst to make that change possible.

With gratitude,

Linda and the whole AWR team.

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