Cleophas Beats HIV and Malaria


Eric Bond, EGPAF

Every 30 seconds, a child dies from malaria, a mosquito-borne parasite that thrives in warm climates. Ninety percent of malaria cases are in sub-Saharan Africa, where the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation implements its programs. It is not uncommon in these countries for an individual to contract malaria several times during a lifetime—and suffer high fevers, shaking chills, and flu-like symptoms. Young children, pregnant women, and elderly people are most at risk of death. In fact, most malaria fatalities are among children under the age of five.

There is no vaccine for malaria, and there are no prophylaxis drugs that can be taken for long periods. Thus, insecticide-treated bed nets provide the best prevention.

In southwest Uganda, I met Cleophas, an energetic 14-year-old at who had suffered several bouts with malaria during the course of her young life. As a 4-year-old, Cleophas received a blood transfusion as treatment for a case of malaria. Unfortunately, the blood supply was not properly vetted at that time, and she was infected with HIV as a result. (Medical protocols in Uganda now keep the blood supply safe.)

Cleophas’ story is unusual because she is the only member of her immediate family living with HIV. After years of unexplained illnesses, Cleophas was tested for HIV when she was 9, and her parents were shocked when the test came back positive. The entire family was tested and her parents and seven siblings—including an identical twin sister—tested negative for the virus. Most children living with HIV become infected through mother-to-child transmission of the virus.  

On the day that I met Cleophas, she was at the Ruhoko Health Center IV for yet another malaria treatment. As a young woman living with HIV, Cleophas is at greater risk of contracting malaria, and she is at greater risk of death if her immune system is not strong enough to fight the parasite. According to the World Health Organization, antimalaria treatment is more likely to fail among adults living with HIV. Combined, malaria and HIV cause more than two million deaths each year.

Cleophas adheres well to her antiretroviral treatment, which builds her immune system, protecting her from a host of diseases, including malaria. She hopes to become a nurse someday and help other girls dealing with serious illnesses. To do so, she will religiously take her HIV medication each day.

Cleophas smiles easily and is eager to get back to games, including her favorite, dodgeball. She is clearly winning this battle with malaria, but she hopes that this is the last time that she has to face it. This will mean that along with her attention to her HIV treatment, she will need to makes sure to always sleep under her insecticide-treated bed net to avoid being bitten in the night by a mosquito.