This week, from yesterday, the15th, through to 21st May, is Malaria Awareness Week.

Why should you care? Well, let me quote a colleague, Piers, who was directly affected by it:

Most people in the UK think of malaria as a tropical disease that has little relevance to them.

Because of this most travellers going abroad do not check if the area they are going to is a malarial hotspot. Of those that do, most refuse, or forget, to take their medication.

My sister, Mattie, was one of those who forgot. Earlier this year she contracted a particularly unpleasant strain called cerebral malaria, which attacks the brain and central nervous system. It went unnoticed, and her GP assumed that she had flu. A week later, in the early hours of the morning of the 26th January, she died. All it took was one mosquito, one bite. She was 19 years old.

Many people, like Mattie, forget to take their pills. Others say that they are worried about the side effects of some Larium-based anti-malarial drugs, such as mefloquine. The fact is that only a handful of people experience any side effects, while just one mosquito bite can be fatal.

We need to raise awareness. Here is a comparison: So far 115 people have died from avian flu, and yet it dominates our newspapers, news programmes and our awareness. Each year over 1.5million people die of malaria, and despite this few people are aware of the dangers.

There is no need for people to die from malaria. It is preventable and treatable and yet it remains one of the major causes of death worldwide.

If you are going on holiday, or if anyone you know is going abroad, do check whether the area is a malarial hotspot. And if you are advised to take medication, follow that advice.

It is within our power to stop this vicious killer.

Please spread the word, raise awareness and take the pills.

And most of all, head to http://www.malariahotspots.co.uk/output/page1.asp
 before you fly.

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