An Aberdeen mum has shared what life is like living with malaria.
Hannah Mumford, 43, contracted the disease while living in West Africa with her husband and three children in 2019.
Now two years on, she regularly loses the use of her legs and struggles with daily tasks such as food shopping, preparing meals and playing with her children, saying she feels like a “different, weaker version of herself.”
The family returned home to the north-east earlier this month, and Hannah is encouraging others to be vigilant about the disease as they begin to travel with easing coronavirus restrictions.
“Covid-19 has affected every nation across the world,” she said.
“It’s tragic that so many have lost their lives, but it’s easy to shut the door on malaria. We mustn’t forget how prevalent it is.”
A shock diagnosis
Hannah’s own diagnosis came as a complete shock. The family had spent the last nine years living in Liberia and Chad but had never experienced anything like this before.
Gilcomstoun resident, Hannah, had been taking daily antimalarial medication when she unexpectedly ended up in hospital with what felt like a bout of flu.
“I was absolutely convinced it wasn’t malaria,” she said.
“I hadn’t had any of the typical signs like nausea or fatigue.
“It all happened so quickly. I dropped the kids off at school and went to get some shopping.
“Suddenly I didn’t feel great and was leaning hard on the trolley.
“My legs were incredibly heavy and it felt like they’d stopped working.”
Hannah managed to get home and called her husband Andrew, 44. Immediately he took her to the hospital where a blood test confirmed she had malaria.
She was sent away with medication and instructions to rest, but five days later found herself back in the emergency department after passing out at home.
“The medication hadn’t worked so I was put on an IV,” Hannah said.
“It was totally surreal… even just staying in the hospital overnight was an experience in itself.
“I was discharged the next day but I just couldn’t walk, it’s like my brain couldn’t tell my legs to move.”
Heading home to the north east
The next few months were long and difficult for the family. Hannah lost a lot of weight and continued to struggle with daily tasks.
“It took me ages even just to walk to the front gate,” she said. “Or I’d walk halfway through the house and not be able to get back because my legs would stop functioning.”
Around the time she contracted malaria, the family had been beginning to think about moving home to Aberdeen.
They had been living in Africa to support Andrew’s job as a pilot for Mission Aviation Fellowship (MAF), a Christian airline which provides humanitarian aid all over the world.
But their eldest son Zachery was approaching secondary school age, and Hannah and Andrew wanted their children to have a Scottish education.
Hannah’s health difficulties set the timeline back a little bit, then the onset of Covid-19 and a pause on global travel pushed things back even further.
“It ended up that we just got back to Aberdeen about three weeks ago,” she said.
“It was hard leaving friends in Liberia but being back is nice and we have a good community at Gilcomstoun Church which has been lovely to come back to.
“I’m still getting used to the weather though.”
The weather isn’t the only thing Hannah is having to acclimatise to.
Living with the after-effects
Now two years on from contracting malaria, she is still suffering the after effects.
“I find it really difficult to multitask now – which you need to do when you’ve got three kids,” she said.
“But it’s extremely difficult for me to concentrate on multiple things at once, especially if I’m anywhere noisy.
“I also get tried more easily. It will come on so quickly, like my legs suddenly feel weak and I need to sit down.
“I’m just thankful I’ve recovered so well.
“If I hadn’t gone to hospital when I did, who knows what could have happened.
“So many people are not that fortunate – they don’t have the money to pay for a blood test or visit the hospital.”
Approximately 400,000 died of malaria in 2019 and Hannah is aware of the privileges which afforded her medical care.
Now back in Aberdeen, she is advocating for better awareness of the disease and how it can be prevented and treated.
“It has taken me a while to talk about my malaria journey,” she said.
“Even when people in the UK hear that word, they think you are going to die – because it is one of the most prevalent infectious diseases in Africa.
“Every two minutes, a child dies of malaria somewhere in the world – many of them places where MAF carry out humanitarian work. It’s really humbling that I’m here to tell my story.”