20 May 2009
I can assert with a degree of certainty based on years of community pharmacy practice that an overwhelming majority of people in Cameroon and indeed most of Africa cannot clearly distinguish the difference between these two commonly used words “fever” and “malaria”. Many people use the words interchangeably and actually believe they mean the same thing. In medical terminology, fever, also known as pyrexia refers to an unusual rise in body temperature which is usually accompanied by shivering and headache. In Europe and the US fever is usually provoked by viral or bacterial infection. On the contrary, in our sub-region, over 70% of cases of fever are linked to malaria—a disease transmitted by mosquito bites.
The importance of understanding the above definitions becomes apparent when you see how many people are confused and misled by the information they obtain from labeled medication and medical literature. Pharmaceutical formulations containing aspirin, paracetamol and related products always carry labels indicating that the medicines are used for headache, pain and fever. Most malaria patients experience headaches, joint pains and fever as indicating symptoms. When they thus see a drug carrying such a label, many assume that it treats malaria and as such use it in the absence of an anti-malaria medicine.
Because many people in our society that feel unwell sometimes turn to untrained medicine hawkers to solve their health problems, they usually miss the medical advice that could have helped them avoid disasters or even fatalities.
It is difficult to estimate how many avoidable deaths occur as a direct consequence of this misunderstanding or misuse of the word ‘fever’ but there is no doubt that the number is substantial.
There is therefore an urgent need for health authorities either to mount a public education campaign to let the public know that fever and malaria do not mean the same thing or cause manufactures of medicines to simplify labeling so as to reduce the confusion that currently reigns.
Njei Moses Timah