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Priscilla Muthoni's Story

Malaria Prevention and Treatment

20-year-old Priscilla is sitting on a bench outside the Thika District Hospital in Kabati, Kenya, with her 10-month-old daughter. She has travelled an hour to get here.

“The baby was vomiting and had fever for the last couple of days. Also she coughs a lot” Priscilla says.

“I thought her problem was that she was getting her teeth, but in a nearer clinic they told me that she could have malaria”.

The diagnosis confirmed, Priscilla discovers that the hospital’s pharmacy is out of stock of three of the five drugs she has been prescribed for her daughter for malaria and other issues. She is told to purchase the drugs from a private pharmacy. Priscilla does not have enough money, so she plans to wash clothes to raise the money over the next three days.

Priscilla’s husband has a casual job but she complains that he spends half of his money drinking local brews. She says that he is often drunk when he gets home.

Malaria can be a life-threatening disease, and is especially serious in children aged under five. It is caused by parasites that are passed on to people through bites of infected mosquitoes. Warm, humid climates provide ideal conditions for mosquitoes to develop and survive. Kabati is an ideal breeding ground for mosquitoes during the rainy season. The intense rain and high average temperatures support the development of the malaria parasite in mosquitoes.

Priscilla, her two daughters and her husband live in a one-room house, no bigger than 15 square meters, made of iron sheets and wooden walls. There is one bed, one small sofa, one table and two chairs. There is no electricity.

The bed has a mosquito net but it has holes so they don’t use it. She says that when her husband is drunk, he sleeps there and she and the baby sleep on the floor on some sacks, because he vomits over the bed. Their other daughter sleeps on the small sofa.

When she sleeps on the floor, she covers herself with a sheet but she says she can see and hear mosquitoes coming through holes in the walls.

Early diagnosis and treatment of malaria reduces the disease and can prevent deaths. Many lives could be saved by preventing transmission of malaria by expanding coverage of insecticide-treated bed nets, by expanding use of intermittent preventive treatment for pregnant women; and by use of indoor residual spraying with DDT.

A Copenhagen Consensus researcher pays for the drugs for Priscilla’s child. The cost? Just 340 Kenyan shillings (US$4.20 or €3). 

Based on an interview by Joana Socias. Photographs by Joana Socias.