Today I have nothing new, creatively-speaking, to share. My gouaches and inks are sitting still, paintbrushes and pens collecting bits of red dust that somehow creep through every opening in this house. I’ve been tucked away from the sun and the rising temperatures that seem to glow outside my window. I’ve been in this sturdy white-washed concrete walled place for 3-weeks now, having been to work for only one of those weeks. As I type, my vision is a bit blurred, but all and all I’m doing well. From the title of this article, you can already guess what it is: malaria and typhoid.
I thought about refraining from writing about this experience. After all, who wants to hear about a sickbed experience? I thought about refraining from writing about it as well because, as an American, we’ve all heard tales of the wild dangers of Africa.
We’ve heard about Ebola, starving children and the AIDS epidemic. And while I never want to belittle the realities of these very real problems, I’ve found that the fear that results, especially in the hype that the American media tends to spread, we neglect to see the beauty and love that exists in these places. We tend to stereotype Africa as a continent before we even know her; we group her as a whole, and not as individual places, countries and peoples. I distinctly remember reading an article late last year about the economic downslide of tourism in Kenya. Americans hastily cancelled their pre-planned safari adventures because of the hype over Ebola in Liberia, a country almost 3,300 miles away from Kenya. That’s the distance between New York City and London (a whole ocean away). That’s a road trip from Juneau, Alaska to Dallas, Texas.
So I wanted to write this not to tell you about how I started feeling sick 6 weeks ago, how I’ve had fevers, bouts of nausea where I wasn’t able to eat for days, or even one wrong diagnosis at a local clinic that delayed my treatment for a week in addition to a set of antibiotics that made me even sicker. That’s not the point.
The point is, yes, I don’t feel well. But I know that I will get better. I know that I can afford the best clinic here that this country’s medical care has to offer. And if I don’t get better after that, I can go elsewhere, to a western country or more advanced regional clinic that can give me that needed care and get me back on my feet. Because I have insurance, medical connections and years of education behind me that tells me the importance of hygiene and taking care of myself. I will get better.
Malaria and typhoid, diagnosed at once, is definitely not a joy. But when monitored correctly, given the right treatment, I will be well again (I’m on round 2 of antibiotic treatments for both; diseases mutate and antibiotics stop becoming effective, so the first treatment wasn’t enough). I will get better and already am on that path.
But the real point of me writing this, what really became a reality for me while sitting here in this room, was that even though malaria and typhoid are 100% treatable, people die every day from it. Most of the 1 million who die each year from malaria (out of 350-500 million diagnosed) are children under 5 years of age. 90% of those cases are in Africa, meaning that one child dies somewhere in Africa every thirty seconds. I live because I paid $8 for my antibiotic treatments and $60 to seek medical attention at a good clinic in Niamey .
I live because I grew up and had access to a health care from the day I was born. Not just any health care, good health care with highly trained and skilled physicians. While the clinics I went to here were certainly top of the line in Niger, were clean and had skilled staff, some of my diagnoses were guesses. Thankfully I have access to French and American trained nurses here to double check the diagnoses, but most people here don’t have either the funds to go to such a clinic or connections with highly-trained medical workers. Patient deaths in the national hospital waiting room are not uncommon, neither is death uncommon over the lack of immediate access to the $3-$10 needed to check-in at the hospital.
Thankfully, malaria rates have been dropping steadily over the past 20 years thanks to preventative efforts and education, but malnutrition rates are still rising. Despite the grim statistics, the reality of Africa, at least in Niger from my perspective, is that when you don’t have your health or access to healthcare, it can be a tough place to live. If you’re not educated on what good hygiene looks like or warning signs for simple illnesses like diarrhea, it can be a tough place to live.
I still see a lot of beauty here, far more beauty than bad. But for this post, I wanted to share with you about being sick. Not about me being sick and me getting better, but being really sick and having no way out. I’ll leave you with some names of organizations who I feel really make an impact in healthcare all over Africa, not just Niger. I prefer to give support to faith-based organizations, which I will list first, but for those who prefer non faith based NGOs, I would recommend these as well.