On our way to the doctor, carrying a very sick little Caleb who had a scarily high fever and was heartbreakingly and uncharacteristically listless in my arms, we met a Kenyan friend. We explained that we were on our way to the doctor to see what was going on with Caleb. The response: “Oh, pole. Probably malaria kidogo?” (Sorry, probably a little malaria?)
The concept of “a little malaria” is just plain bizarre to folks in the US who tend to know the disease only by its exoticism and very real lethality. In the US, you likely don’t know a soul who’s been sick with malaria, you’ll protect yourselves with prophylaxis when you travel to a malarial zone and you hear repeatedly about the millions of children who die from this disease every year. What’s kidogo about that??
What you don’t hear is that with timely and proper treatment it’s basically like a bad flu that resolves itself remarkably quickly. Almost everyone here has gotten malaria several times and some don’t bother to call out sick from work when they have it. I don’t want to minimize how lethal it can be for those with weak immunity and no access to treatment, but the same holds true for the flu. (Of course there are rarer forms of malaria, like cerebral malaria, that are a hell of a lot more serious than the flu.)
Luckily, Caleb has parents with means and a UN doctor a stone’s throw from his house. He received an injection of drugs that morning and was transformed back into a giggling toddler by the afternoon. It’s still no fun of course to watch your baby in pain, and we’ll do everything we can to avoid his getting malaria in the future. Even malaria kidogo.