Malaria is a vector-borne disease that enters your bloodstream through the saliva of a female mosquito (yes, so no woman no cry). There are four different strains of this cheeky little protist; Plasmodium vivax, P.ovale, P.malariae and P.falsiparum. While the first 3 strains usually do not lead to life threatening infections, P.falsiparum can be fatal unless treated immediately. And guess what? Our little falsiparum-friend is the strain we find in Rwanda. The leading cause of death in this country is malaria, but a majority of the mortality cases are children under the age of 5 (and most of these cases are as a result of lack of proper and timely medication.)
For the average expat, malaria is not a major health concern. There are several ways of avoiding infection, but should you get malaria, medication is readily available in hospitals and health centers. However, even after taking treatment medicine you might still be sick for up to a week. The best option is therefore to avoid getting sick. Please see the following list for the best ways to prevent infection.
Brands like Malarone and Lariam are well-known malaria-preventive pills. Many expats fill up on these before coming to Rwanda. In general though, most doctors do not recommend taking these drugs over a long time period. Also, pill-popping is quite an expensive habit.
In Kigali you find anit-malarials in most pharmacies. The brand Mephaquin is the generic equivalent to Lariam (active ingredient méfloquine), and costs Rwf 8,400 for a 4-month supply. For children, Malarone is the only alternative, and it costs Rwf 2,080 for each one-day dose.
Sleep Using a Mosquito Net
Mosquitoes are nocturnal creatures, meaning they are most likely to suck your blood at night. Sleeping under a mosquito net is therefore a cheap and easy way to prevent infection. Decent quality nets (in various colors) are available at supermarkets in Kigali (such as Nakumatt and T-2000), but I have yet to find those awesome box shaped ones, so you might want to bring that from home. Personally I don’t use a net as it interferes with my dream catcher… and I must say, after 2 years I’ve yet to get malaria (and nightmares.)
The first months I lived here, I got bitten like crazy. A good bug spray is a good buy and, as they can be hard to find in Kigali, it’s a good idea to bring them from home. Oh, and bonus: if you get that 95% DEET stuff you are likely to grow super-awesome fluorescent tumors all over your body.
The LBS (Latex Body Suit), also known as the human condom, is a commonly used malaria-preventive method. Please ask the staff at Nakumatt to help you pick out the right size. The LBS also comes in a variety of colors and scents. My personal favorites are the ‘smooth banana’ and ‘tangy tree-tomato’, but feel free to find your own. The LBS was originally introduced by the Rwandan government in 2010, and is the only fool-proof way to prevent mosquito bites. It also protects you from other diseases such as bird flu, HIV/Aids, tuberculosis, cancer, kidney stone, and chapped lips.
If you do get malaria, stop by any pharmacy to pick up a 3-day cure for Rwf 3,000. It’ as easy as that! No prescription needed. It might actually be a good idea to keep a few malaria medication packets with you, in case you should develop symptoms while you are far from a pharmacy.
Please note that malaria does not cure itself if you just take it easy and drink hot milk with honey. It is normal for the P.falsiparum strain to cause so-called fluctuating symptoms, meaning the symptoms come in waves.
In general, you should always assume you have malaria if you show any of the most common symptoms (such as fever, joint pain, and nausea.) You can have a blood test done for Rwf 750 at public hospitals, while it’ll cost you Rwf 2,500 at a private clinic. If you treat it quickly, you’re not likely to become severely ill.
…is a part of life, but you will not leave this world a second before the universe is ready to embrace you. Should your death be caused by the saliva of a little female bug, thou shalt not despair, but rather accept your fate. And when you are reincarnated perhaps you will remember to buy that LBS…