Thursday, September 16, 2010

Broadband Dongles & Malaria Pills

Since I got to Ghana, two technologies have become especially important to me, one that we in the high tech industry would normally perceive as "technology" and one that we wouldn't. The two things I'm talking about are mobile broadband dongles and anti-malaria pills. Within my first few days here, these two objects became essential parts of my daily life, though obviously for drastically different reasons.

Broadband dongles are small devices that plug into a USB port and allow you to access the Internet from any location there's cell phone reception. As I've mentioned in previous posts, this is orders of magnitude more common than finding a stable land-line or Wifi hotspot. Similar to cell phones around the world, you can choose to either buy monthly plans for access or "pay as you go", to borrow a marketing term. The connection still isn't usually great, but for a last resort, it can make a huge difference. And for me, between the unstable Wifi connection in my hotel and the urgent nature of some of my work, it already has.

The other technology that has become an integral part of my life in Africa is my daily anti-malarial medication. For those of you unfamiliar with the intricacies of malaria (like I was before I came here), it's a disease caused by tiny parasites and transmitted by mosquito bite. What's more, unlike most common diseases, malaria never fully leaves your system, lingering in your blood stream for the rest of your life. So in prevention, I've been taking a drug called Malarone (the most expensive, least side effect causing, most effective option), though there are two other popular alternatives: Mefloquine (the one that can make you loopy) and Doxycycline (the one that makes you extra sensitive to the sun). It seems that among the other expats I've met here, Malarone has become the standard, which is comforting. The biggest downside is its cost. In the US, a single pill commands anywhere between $10 and $15. For a single pill! And mind you, you have take these pills every day of your stay. That's expensive even by American standards, let alone Ghanain. In fact, when you think about it, the cost of taking Malarone every day for a year adds up to between $3,650 and $5,475. That's roughly 3 times the entire country's per capita GDP. Ridiculous? Absolutely. But damned if I'm going to get malaria while I'm here. So it goes.

5 comments:

Marjorie said...

Is this the same pill you took two days before you left that you hoped would not make you nauseous?

Benjamin Cole said...

Yep!

Adrienne said...

I was on Malarone for two weeks when I went to India and didn't have any problems and didn't get malaria -- I hope you have my luck!

Robyn said...

Is "dongle" the official name for that thing? My uncle and I shared shared a similar device at his place, a Spring 3G network - but are they the same thing?

Benjamin Cole said...

Not sure if it's the official name, but that's what everyone calls them here.