Have you ever felt like you ‘knew’ a stranger via social media? I have. Years ago, I frequented an online hair group which discussed all things hair – how to grow it long, how to keep it long, how to trim it and on and on and on. The chat room buzzed about all things tress-related and sometimes other issues, like, our lives. I remember a frequent poster who wrote often about her seemingly wonderful life. She had an attractive boyfriend, gorgeous looks and, of course, long thick hair. One day she posted that she’d be leaving soon to volunteer overseas and after that, she didn’t post much more. Our group having not heard from her in a while wondered what had happened – until someone found out and posted an article.
The beautiful stranger, whose life I followed closely, contracted malaria while volunteering overseas, and when she returned to the United States, she died. Reportedly, doctors, unfamiliar with the disease, did not catch it in time to save her life. This still happens around the world. In 2016, there lived a Frenchman in Ghana, presumably, he’d contracted malaria before and recovered with the readily available antimalarials. And then, he visited France. He died from malaria in a French hospital.
As tragic as these two accounts are, there are close to half-million additional deaths from malaria each year, and most of the deaths are children. Malaria is preventable; malaria is curable. And yet people – millions – have died from this disease over the years.
Still, until recently, I never thought of malaria minus an occasional visit to Ghana or other malaria-endemic-country. On those visits, I’d have to decide between the daily pill or the weekly pill to stay healthy. I would take the prophylactic, have a great time, and then return to my regular life’s routine never thinking of malaria until my next exotic trip.
Then one day, I had a dream and woke up from that dream with thoughts and words. And I began to write. I wrote about a woman similar to the ‘social media stranger’ whose life seemed mysterious and enviable and about her friends and about their epic promise. And, I read the introduction to my friends who loved it; so, I decide to write an entire book. But, knowing the power of books, greater than my desire to write an entertaining book was my desire to write one which sheds light on an issue too long ignored. Books bring awareness and awareness save lives.
Imagine this outcome. A child is rushed to the emergency room. The child shakes with fever and no one knows the cause, but the nurse has seen this before ‘back home’. The nurse asks the child’s parent if she has traveled. And upon hearing yes, the nurse suggests the child be tested for malaria. The malaria is caught in time and the child survives. It was the child’s lucky day; the nurse was my mother.
We don’t have to imagine this, we can create better outcomes for all children and those threatened by malaria. Lives can be saved through knowledge, or through attention which motivates individuals to donate for nets or to finalize a vaccine. Whether through the news or via fiction, awareness, is the key to happier endings. Let’s rewrite the story of malaria.