Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Oh my body

My ear problem persists. Rubbing Shea butter around the outer ear helps – Shea butter is a natural anti-inflammatory steroid. My doctor reckons it’s because I have yet to get rid of the malaria in my system. Malaria is a strange phenomenon: very few people you meet understand it in any detail, even though it is more common than flu in the West. The lifecycle of protozoa falciparum (the prevalent form of the organism found in West Africa) is complex – especially once it is inside the body. Artemesinin-based treatments (which come originally from Chinese herbal medicine) have more or less replaced quinine-based treatments (chloroquine or mefloquine) over here. If you go to the Hospital for Tropical Diseases in London and tell them you have malaria, the next second you’ll find yourself in isolation, being pumped full of some form of quinine or other. This is understandable, given that the doctors there most often are dealing with critical cases and the highly dangerous often fatal cerebral form of malaria. Even though more successful than quinine forms, artemesinin-based treatments have yet to be licensed in Europe (no one can be bothered to spend money on expensive trials when it is such an insignificant ailment in Europe). However, back in Nigeria, I find that not all artemesinin-based drugs work on falciparum – even though the drug companies say they do. For instance, my doctor, who is something of an expert on malaria, tells me that Coartem, one of the more popular artemesinin-based drugs, does not actually counteract falciparum, even though Novartis (the manufacturer) claims it does in the blurb that comes with the drug. No wonder the two times I’ve taken it it hasn’t felt like its worked. In fact, there are several layers to the problem of malaria in the tropics:
1. The drugs companies lie about the efficacy of their drugs and which elements combat which forms of the protozoa. In fact, successful anti-malarial treatment requires a combination of artemesinin and another element to truly kill of the protozoa.
2. A lot of the more established anti-malarials are prone to fakes (one of the better artemesinin drugs, Cotexin – which originated in China, is very rarely found in non-fake form). There doesn’t seem to be anyway to combat these fake drugs, especially when sometimes the fake element is simply a matter of using right-handed chemical elements when left-handed compounds are required (its very expensive to test for this).
3. Most doctors do not have anything other than a superficial understanding of the lifecycle of falciparum in the body and dole out Cotexin or Coartem without any thought

Hopefully, with the new combination of drugs I’m on, plus a prophylactic regime designed for my bodyweight, I can now kick the pesky organism from my system and return to two ears hearing and my usual energy levels. Meanwhile, my doctor has plans to rid Sao Tome of Malaria completely: as an island of the coast, it should be relatively simple to treat all those with the disease and therefore prevent mosquitoes from being able to pick up and transmit the parasite.

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