I'm a 20 year old photographer, explorer and a frequent traveller from Barnet. When I saw the opportunity to volunteer in Ghana with a charity for three months, I jumped at the chance. Travelling and seeing the world is one of my passions and I was excited to spend three months abroad teaching English. I was living in a pretty rural location in the north of Ghana, it was small and fairly basic, but I loved it. The conditions could be pretty extreme but never did I think that they would impact on my life as much as they did!
I was taking Doxycycline, an anti-malaria drug which I had to take once, every day. Before I went away my doctor stressed the importance of making sure not to miss a single day as this would increase my risk of malaria. The area I was living in had a particularly high rate of malaria which had a devastating impact on the local community. I made sure that I slept under a mosquito net every night, but one night I think I left a corner untucked and an infected mosquito managed to find their way inside my net. That’s all it took - one single bite and I was infected with malaria.
It only took a few days to start feeling ill. At first it began with extreme headaches, diarrhoea and feeling dizzy all of the time, like I was drunk! Unfortunately, because of the remote location of the village, the local hospital wasn’t open on weekends and so in total I had to wait about five days before seeing a doctor, which meant my situation got a lot worse whilst I was waiting. I was violently throwing up green bile and could barely walk straight, the 40 degree weather couldn’t have helped either!
What’s so scary and dangerous about malaria is how quickly it takes over your body. I finally got to see the doctor on the Monday, I was admitted to hospital and was told that I had ‘complicated malaria’.
The hospital had little electricity, massive holes in the walls and was very understaffed. It was just rows and rows of sick men laying shoulder-to-shoulder. There was just very little resources. Doctors were massively overworked, they would tell me when I'm due more IV, but then fall asleep. I'd have to go and wake them up to get the treatment. Those nights in hospital were very slow, dark and hot and basically consisted of me looking at the ceiling and sweating. I even had to fight to get a mosquito net in the hospital as none of the other patients had one. Which baffled me since some of them were in for malaria treatment.
A few days later I got discharged with a prescription of 21 pills to take every day! Unluckily for me, I didn’t react well to the malaria medication. I lost the ability to walk or even string sentences together and things started to get very scary. I went back to the hospital but unfortunately the drugs hadn’t been able to fight the malaria and I was back to square one, with treatment that turned out to be as horrific as the disease.
Luckily the charity I was volunteering with were able to fly me to Accra, Ghana’s capital city, where the hospital was much better equipped to deal with malaria. I was quickly put on a new malaria medication and an IV drip and started to make progress, but it took me about a week to get back on my feet and well enough to be able to fly back home.
Despite being deemed ‘physically fit to fly’, the road to recovery has been tricky. I think in total I lost nearly 7kg, but the mental impact took much longer to recover from. The doctors in Ghana were pretty honest with me, telling me how serious my case of malaria was and I ended up in quite a dark place. Luckily, when I got home, my family and friends were incredible and a year on I can say that I am feeling both physically and mentally a lot stronger.
Looking back now, I wish I had recognised the signs and symptoms of malaria a lot earlier as it would have made my treatment and recovery much quicker. Malaria is easily treatable but you must get help as soon as you can!
Many people across the world affected by malaria don’t have easy access to care, your fundraising and donations can go a long way to making sure they get the care they need.