Doctor: “Yes you have malaria…” 28 Jul 16

Kieran Gemmel Is a Saltire Scholar taking his Saltire Internship with Challenges Worldwide in Lusaka, Zambia. This blog has been reposted from The Saltire blog. To read more stories of Saltire Scholars on their placements around the world visit their site

The words that no one wants to hear. I’ll be honest and say I froze in place when the doctor told me this. They say you overcome challenges in your internships, perhaps I expected more overwhelming challenges in a Saltire internship. But I never thought malaria would be one of these challenges that I would have to overcome.

So how did this happen? Well no one has a single clue, not me, not ICS staff and not even the doctor himself! I took my malaria pills religiously, used my deet spray like a shield and used my mosquito net every night.

Onto the next question: Why are you writing a blog about malaria?

Personally contracting malaria isn’t what this blog is about, it’s merely the context and having a week off from work allowed me to personally reflect on the lives of people in Scotland vs the lives of people in Zambia.

So everyone knows what malaria is, most people I assume would view it as a scary disease that is incurable – and I much had the same opinion. However Zambian people have a different attitude toward it – they accept it as a disease, are aware of the symptoms and know how it can be cured. Actually the doctor finished his sentence to me by saying “…and it can be cured.”

I won’t lie when I said I burst into joy at the word ‘cured’. And then the doctor began to discuss the financial cost. And that’s when I began to reflect on how lucky we are as Scottish people.

Everyone knows the NHS provides free health care – but sometimes I think I take it for granted. Often you see headlines stating “NHS wait times over one hour…” etc. Yes wait times are important, yes we should try to improve them. But what’s really important? Zambians could wait 1 hour and still not get free healthcare, they could wait 10 hours and still not get free healthcare, they could wait days and still not get healthcare. At the end of the day they have to pay for it.

The price the doctor quoted me was absurd – over 1000 kwatcha for treatment. All I could think about was: how can other Zambians possibly afford this? For those that don’t know 1000 kwatcha is a LOT of money. I’m lucky enough to be insured for any medical costs – while in Zambia.

I remember telling the nurse about free healthcare in Scotland and she was ASTONISHED. She couldn’t get her head around it – that was before we discussed the differences in education (Zambia having free education only up to primary school).

You have an illness? Need medicine? It’s fine the NHS will cover the cost and provide your care for free. It’s amazing. Simply AMAZING. And I would argue some of us, certainly myself, took it for granted what we get in Scotland.

So I underwent the treatment and at the end of the week I was completely malaria free. But it’s not about me. It’s about the Zambians that can’t afford the treatment, that have to use home remedies instead of paying these fees. In this blog I wanted to draw a picture of different realities that exist for people in two different countries. I wanted to highlight that not everyone is as lucky as us in Scotland.

If anything that week has taught me it’s that I’m forever grateful for the doctors in Zambia that treated me, I’m privileged to have free health care in Scotland and I know, personally, I’ll never complain about the waiting times in the NHS ever again.

I feel sometimes we get so wrapped up in what we DO have that we forget what others DON’T have.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s