Monday, 16 April 2007

Zimbabwe…What About Zimbabwe? Part II

M had grown up in the heart of the South African bushveld in the ‘50’s and ’60’s and in the early ‘70’s worked for expeditions into Botswana to the Okavango Swamps and the Central Kalahari Reserve (traditional home of the Bushman -"San" people). Reflecting on J’s bout with Malaria, I remembered M saying to him as he left Scotland for Zimbabwe “Remember J, it’s not the big things that are problems in the bush, it’s the little things.”

For the remainder of February and into March communication resumed the normal flow of e-mails back and forth. Use of the phone had stopped until such time as our bill recovered from J’s illness so when I answered a call towards the middle of March and heard him on the line, my heart gave an immediate lurch! What followed added at least ten years to my chronological age!

“Hi Mom, howzit?” (Standard issue South African slang derived from Cricket lingo.)
“We’re fine. What’s wrong?” (No beating about the bush here!)
“I’m at the hospital in Zxaqrebakeroro.” (Well, that’s what it sounded like! Arghhhhh, HOSPITAL!)
“Well remember that bite I told you about?” (Last e-mail asked about treating what appeared to be a spider bite on his lower leg)
“Yeah, yeah.” (Now I’m starting to relax, it probably got infected.)
“Well, the glands in my groin are huge and it (the bite) went black in the middle so I came here to the Outpatients.” (African version of Accident & Emergency)
“Good thing, what do they say?”
“I’m just waiting for the Environmental Officers.”
“What, Why?” (Here go the alarm bells again)
“They want to take a scraping”
“Why?” (I’m mentally packing and working out whom to borrow the airfare from!)
“They say its Anthrax.”
“WHAT???” (I’m way too old for this…I keep forgetting to breathe!)
“Relax, Mom. I’m OK.”
“How can you be OK? Anthrax is deadly!” (All I knew about Anthrax I learned from CNN!)
“No, they’ve given me the shots already. They say I’ll be fine. Bloody sore shots though. “

The officials came and scraped, and took the samples off for the tests. That was nearly five weeks ago and J still hasn’t had a chance to drive the tortuously long road back to the government hospital to pick up the results. He feels fine, completing the course of medicines that was given along with the injections. Once again, he was back at work within a few days and off to the bush to work with his beloved animals. He is busy developing and testing a harmless elephant repellent and when I spoke to him this morning, he told me that the wound has shrunk to the size of a one-pound coin (about the size of a quarter) and is healing nicely. I wish I could say the same for myself!

Obviously my knowledge about Anthrax needed upgrading! Every reference I had heard relating to it, focused on the use of Anthrax as a biological weapon. Boy, did I have a lot to learn! The CDC (Centre for Disease Control – USA) provided me with the most concise (and comforting) information. There are actually three types of Anthrax infection: cutaneous (skin), inhalation and gastrointestinal. All types are caused by the spore-forming bacterium Bacillus anthracis that occurs usually in lower vertebrates such as cattle, goats, sheep, camels, antelopes, etc. It can occur in humans when they are exposed to infected animals, tissue from infected animals or when the spores are used as a bio-terrorist weapon.

J had been infected with the cutaneous (most common) version, which accounts for about 95% of Anthrax infections. The bacterium enters the body through a cut or abrasion on the skin when handling infected animals or their by-products such as hair or hides. This forms an itchy, raised bump resembling an insect bite that in a couple of days forms a painless ulcer with a characteristic black necrotic (dying) area in the centre. Lymph glands in the vicinity of the ulcer may swell. Deaths are rare with the correct treatment; about 20% of untreated cases result in fatalities unlike the gastrointestinal type (25% -60% fatalities for both treated and untreated) and the Inhalation type, which is almost always fatal.

When they next meet, father and son will have plenty to share comparing notes. We never thought that J would be facing some of these small dangers quite so soon; M thinks it’s horribly unfair that ailments he had spread over some twenty-five years, J has faced in a matter of months. He’s always considered nature to be more fair to its protectors. We’re just hoping and praying that J has had his share for a while!

My concerns for my son originally were based on the political and social problems faced by almost all Zimbabweans. Fortunately, there have been cures for what he has encountered. Zimbabwe no longer has the infrastructure or the capital to combat or control the spread of these types of diseases. It's a great pity Africa hasn’t yet come up with a cure for the dictators who still plague it.


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