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Malaria has been in the media a lot recently. After leaving hospital a few days ago Cheryl Cole gave an interview about catching the disease on her holiday trip to Africa and the weeks she spent in intensive care. And she is not the only star who has suffered from this disease. The same thing happened to Simon Reeve, the face of popular BBC programmes and a travel writer. The difference is that Cheryl Cole took antimalarial tablets, just like medical textbooks say you should, and Simon was simply careless.
When we visit Simon to listen to his story about malaria, he is still embarrassed to admit that catching the disease was totally his own fault. Simon has gone around the world three times visiting far-off exotic locations so he was well aware of the health risks when he travelled to Gabon, West Africa, a malaria hotspot, in 2006. Although he knew how dangerous the disease is, he still risked his life.
‘It happened while I was filming Equator,’ recalls Simon. ‘I was told I should start taking antimalarial tablets the day before I got to Africa and then every day while I was there. I bought them well in advance, but foolishly, in all the excitement, I didn’t pack them. Of course it was stupid of me, but I thought everything would be all right so I didn’t worry about it. I think I was bitten by a mosquito on the first day but I realized something was wrong several days later. We had finished our journey through Gabon and were going to the Democratic Republic of Congo the following day. Sophie, the director, Sam, the cameraman, and I went to have a pizza in a restaurant near our hotel with a couple of doctors from Germany who were working at the Albert Schweitzer Hospital, one of the main malaria hospitals in Africa. Suddenly, during the meal I started to get muscle ache and felt sleepy so I went back to my room and went straight to bed. I woke up at 3 a.m. feeling very sick. But malaria didn’t come to my mind. We’d come from an area where lots of gorillas had the deadly Ebola virus and that was my biggest fear. The hospital was far away so I wanted to contact one of the German doctors but I didn’t have their phone numbers. I decided to wait until morning but I was really terrified.’
In the morning Simon managed to get up and perhaps rather optimistically tried to continue filming. ‘Sophie and Sam took one look at me and told me to sit down,’ he says. ‘They checked my temperature which was 39.8°C – a high fever. They gave me some water and some medicine and called for a local doctor who examined me and said he suspected I had malaria. Sophie contacted one of the specialists we had met the day before and after giving me a blood test he said the diagnosis was correct.
I felt really embarrassed but the experience has taught me a lot. Now, I am a wiser traveller. I travel with a medical kit and I always check where I can get medical help. When everything is fine I go to the doctor only once every two or three years. But if I start to suffer from symptoms similar to flu, I go to my doctor straightaway to make sure the malaria hasn’t come back. It’s a huge change. Before I had malaria I didn’t even have my own doctor, I just took an aspirin when I had a cold.’
Simon really wants to reduce the number of malaria infections each year, that’s why he agreed to have his story published. ‘With modern medicine there is no reason so many British travellers should catch this horrible disease,’ he says.
adapted from www.dailymail.co.uk