My language skills have been tested in another direction today.
“Odomos! Protection contre les moustiques partout!” exclaims a friendly little packet in my first aid kit, replete with a picture of a grinning African family and toddler.
My rusty French had this as “Odomos! Protection against the mosquitoes which are everywhere!”. But my rather more linguistically talented friend Lynne sensibly suggested that perhaps “all-over protection against mosquitoes” was more likely.
The cheesy grinning picture on the front shows the family surrounded by some sort of white halo force-field bubble, and a dejected looking droopy mozzie in a bold red circle with a line through. If only it were so simple.
Malaria is endemic in Sierra Leone. One in five children dies before the age of five, and malaria is one of the top three causes of death. It’s the worst child mortality rate in the world. In fact, it’s hard to imagine a reality more diametrically opposed to the one painted in the picture.
Despite all this, Odomos! is surprisingly hard to find. I’ve scoured the supermarkets and pharmacists on my way to work, and not found it anywhere. Not to mention the fact that it is almost certainly too expensive for the 70p a day budget of most people in Sierra Leone.
The Ministry of Health and Sanitation is committed to reducing child and maternal mortality rates. It has introduced a policy of free healthcare for under 5s, pregnant women and lactating mothers. There are plenty of challenges in the system – lack of equipment and variable drug supplies for example. But things are improving. Slowly.
Last week I fell ill. With a temperature of 38.6°C, shivers, fever, headaches, joint pain, stomach pain. I consulted my handy health briefing document which informed me that these are the symptoms of malaria, shortly to be followed by confusion, fits and fluctuating levels of consciousness before leading to coma and death.
Needless to say I skiddadled up to Freetown’s most reliable hospital post-haste. The doctor ran a batch of tests, and gravely informed me that I either had malaria, flu, or an infection of the intestine. “So you don’t know what’s wrong with me, then?” I asked. “This is science, you know!” retorted my ruffled doctor. “I’m not just guessing!”.
Fret not folks. You’ll be happy to know that I’ve been restored to the best of health – through treatment for all three illnesses! Malaria treatment, antibiotics, and worming tablets thrown in for good measure. Can’t complain – something did the trick!
So I’m beefing up my anti-mozzie defences, just in case. I now have a giant stash of DEET, Odomos!, creams, sprays, you name it, all on hand.
During my India adventures, I was befriended by two rickshaw driving brothers in Mysore who assured me that water lily oil was the best deterrent for mosquitoes. I wasn’t overly convinced, but malaria isn’t so prevalent in India, so I figured I’d take a risk. Tried it out and behold: not a bite to be seen! And after judicious experimentation here: effectiveness – great; toxicity – nil.
Water lily oil for the win! I might start importing the stuff and flogging it on the streets….