Julia and David: ‘Drive against Malaria’

As the heat builds up towards the middle of the day, my  mind weaves back to this time yesterday where within the lodge grounds staff and others are being tested and treated for malaria.  Under the shade of a small outhouse, the ‘Drive Against Malaria’ duo (who have been staying at the lodge since I arrived) are testing a local BaAka (Pygmy) family, part of the work they do in this area to which they return each year, testing, treating and providing mosquito nets, focusing particularly on BaAka villages, the poorest members of this area.

At 3 years old, the little girl lined up with her grandparents and her older sister, is already a charmer and knows it!  With brown eyes open wide, she waits with considerable poise while her finger is swabbed, dried and pricked for a tiny drop of blood to activate the miniature test kit.  ‘We make certain they don’t see the blood, and I stay smiling and so they are not frightened’, explains Dr Julia Samuels, a former psychiatrist and TV personality from the Netherlands, who has been committed to this work for the past decade with her partner, David, a determined Englishman who saw a need and has campaigned and fundraised since the 1980’s in order to combat malaria in often forgotten corners of Africa.    Its true: the little girl is unperturbed and while we wait five minutes for the test results, she chews a worm tablet, swallowing it down with water, before it is Grandma’s turn.  Julia predicts that Grandfather will not be infected, his skin too leathery for the particular Anopheles mosquito that carries the Plasmodium Falciparum malarial parasite (the particularly lethal cerebral malaria strain common here) to penetrate. She’s right. A   few minutes later when the test results can be seen ( akin to a pregnancy test kit, lines appear if the particular enzyme the body produces in  in response to the parasite is present, and viable less than 12 hours after being bitten), grandfather is the only one in the family showing no sign of infection. The rest of the family are provided with 3-day doses of Coartem medication  ( Novartis is one of the Drive against Malaria sponsors). When a lodge staff member translates Grandma’s request for a mosquito net for the family (they are heading off fishing and will miss the village visit where Julia and David are heading tomorrow not only to provide nets but also to help ensure each one is hung correctly within each household), her request is honoured. Armed with the net and their tablets, the family heads off to their fishing canoe at the river’s edge.


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