Vivax malaria, breaking the cycle of endless suffering

10 Jul 2014

Malaria World Blog: George Jagoe draws attention to P.vivax malaria and highlights the exciting possibility of a single-dose cure for this debilitating disease.

In the summer of 1982, I went to Belize with a group of teenage volunteers, living in a village not far from Belmopan, the capital.  Our host, Ricardo, was a charismatic 30-year-old community organizer, trained in agronomy and responsible for a local chapter of the 4-H organization, a U.S. based international youth development organization. He was bright, articulate, and an inspiring role model for us adolescents.  One week into our field work, he made a passing comment, casually muttering "Next week, I’ll probably be out of commission for a few days." 

“What do you mean, you’ll be ‘out of commission’?” 

“About once every 4-6 weeks, I come down with a bout of malaria.  It’s pretty miserable.  Like having the flu.” 

I had been well-briefed about malaria before we arrived in Central America, and was dutifully taking weekly chloroquine tablets for prophylaxis.  But I had never encountered anyone with malaria. I probed – and he obliged by describing his affliction in detail. I learned of his misery due to the recurrent high fevers, of writhing and lying in puddles of sweat for 2-4 days at a time. I was aghast at the idea of this bright community leader laid low every month. 

 “And you can’t treat it?” I asked. 

“Well, I take some kind of sulfa drugs. When the fever comes, they can help me get better faster… But it always comes back.”

Malaria wears many masks. For some newcomers, the first image they encounter is that of an African child in a perilous struggle with acute falciparum. My first close-up view was of a chronic vivax patient – a full-grown, productive community leader, rendered helpless by monthly combat with an enemy that wouldn’t let go… but that toyed with him, giving him a few weeks to recover before the next round of punishment. Like Sisyphus, lugging a huge stone uphill only to have it roll back down, Ricardo was locked in an exhausting struggle with relapsing vivax.  I was fascinated by the disease and horrified by the suffering it engendered. And I wished there were something that could give battered fighters like Ricardo a better chance against this wicked adversary......

Read the full article on the Malaria World website.