malaria tablets
Malaria tablets

If you are planning to travel to a country where there’s a risk of malaria, and trying to find out about anti-malaria tablets (commonly referred to as malaria tablets), then this post may be of help.

Three years ago, I travelled to Central Africa, to Congo to be precise,  for a month. I took no malaria tablets with me. I know, it sounds risky given that malaria is a deadly disease. But I had my reasons for not taking them. Unlike some people from the African Diaspora, I don’t think I’m somehow less prone to catching Malaria. In fact, up until this trip I’d always taken the tablets whenever I travelled to an African country. However, a traumatizing experience with one particular type of Malaria tablets seriously put me off taking them.

In Kenya, working with other volunteers
In Kenya, working with other volunteers

In 2005, I travelled to Kenya for a charity trip. This was the first time I went back to the motherland since moving to the UK a couple of years back. So Malaria tablets were a must-have in my travel kit. I chose the once-a-week type (Mefloquine/Lariam) for their convenience, and after two weeks abroad I came back to London without any problems.

In my next trip to the continent, I lived in Burkina Faso for a 6-months work placement and a research project. I naturally chose the once-a-week tablets as I had taken them before. But things were different this time…

I had serious anxiety and hallucination problems. I first had signs of hallucinations when I started taking the tablets three weeks before leaving the UK. But as I was unaware of what they could be, I ignored them and told myself that whatever it was it will eventually pass. On my first night in Burkina Faso, I had the most vivid and scary hallucinations: I saw the girl I was sharing the room with trying to kill me. You can imagine how frightened I was as I had just landed in a foreign country. But I knew that it was unlikely as my host family seemed (and were in fact) very nice people. So I just assumed it was a bad dream due to fatigue. The next day, I went out with two Canadians who worked in the same organisation as I did, and they warned me about the hallucinations side effects of the once-a-week Malaria tablets, but I laughed it off. That was the first time someone had ever mentioned the hallucinations side effect of those Malaria tablets to me.

In Burkina Faso, working with village elders
In Burkina Faso, meeting village elders for our project

As time passed, I became more and more anxious and continued to have vivid hallucinations. Note that my hallucinations only took place at night, before sleeping. During the day, everything was completely fine. So I couldn’t pin down what was happening. But, after three months, I knew there was something wrong: yes I was in a new country, and it can be scary, but by that time I had fairly travelled to a good number of new local places to feel that anxious. My hallucinations went as wild as to draw scenarios of how the ceiling ventilator in my room would fall on me while I sleep; it sounds funny but at the time it was serious and scary. I had that particular hallucination several times. I eventually recalled what the Canadians told me, and went to read on about the tablets’ side effects. Hallucinations and anxiety were indeed listed in their notice. Every thing made sense.

So I stopped taking them and was advised to take local malaria tablets to cover me for the rest of my time there. This whole experience gave me just a slight idea of what some people with mental health problems may go through. Living with a significant level of fear that you feel you cannot control is one of the scariest and worst thing ever.

I wish I had read the information leaflet or ask the right questions, but I did not. You live and you learn… Talking about this experience will hopefully help others take more precautions when travelling. If you are planning your trip and need to buy malaria tablets make sure to ask as many questions about the tablet’s side effects as you can. The list may be scary, but this knowledge will put you in a position to act promptly when faced with potential side effects, preventing you from enduring them for as long as I did.

Will I ever take malaria tablets again? Probably yes, but they have to be a different type to the ones I previously took. For now, I content myself with using the highest level of insect repellent spray to keep those mosquitoes away from me. Any other suggestions are very much welcomed 🙂