Stories of typhoid: Hazielat

Meet Hazielat, a 20-year-old student in Malawi and mother of an energetic toddler, Patience. After dropping out of school when she became pregnant with Patience two years ago, Hazielat is now refocused on school and working hard to catch up with her course work. But earlier this year, Hazielat experienced another setback in pursuing her education.

In mid-January 2018, Hazielat began having persistent headaches and became so nauseous that she vomited every time she ate. She sought care at a local hospital, and was sent home by doctors with painkillers to ease the headaches. Over the next couple of days, however, Hazielat’s symptoms grew worse and she went back to the hospital. This time, the doctors admitted her and ran a blood culture test. The results came back as typhoid, a disease with which Hazielat was largely unfamiliar.

“The results were such a relief for me,” said Hazielat. “Finally, I knew what was wrong with me. This knowledge meant the beginning of my healing.”

Hazielat and her daughter, Patience, cross a river near their home in Ndirande Township in Malawi.

Hazielat is one of almost 12 million people this year who will contract typhoid, a disease that spreads through contaminated food and water. Although typhoid can usually be treated with antibiotics, drug resistance is on the rise, making it a much more dangerous disease.

Thankfully, Hazielat’s doctors were able to diagnose appropriately and give effective antibiotics, and after three days of treatment, she started feeling better. One week later, she was released from the hospital.

Hazielat was relatively lucky. Typhoid kills more than 128,000 people worldwide annually. But even though Hazielat is now recovered, the disease came with a significant toll. While she was sick, Hazielat missed four weeks of school and relied on family to care for Patience.

“I missed my daughter so much,” said Hazielat. “I couldn’t play with her, let alone carry her.”

Hazielat’s mother became the primary caretaker for both Hazielat and Patience.

“My mother’s life literally stopped because she had to be there looking after me at all times,” said Hazielat. Her mother was only able to return to her small business after Hazielat finally received the proper treatment and recovered.

Hazielat and her mother Mercy at their home in Ndirande Township in Malawi. Hazielat was treated for typhoid earlier this year.

Now that Hazielat has recovered from typhoid, she is back in school and playing with her daughter again. She’s also determined to protect Patience from the disease and would like to get her vaccinated against typhoid as soon as possible. Her options are currently limited, though. New typhoid conjugate vaccines (TCVs), recently recommended by the World Health Organization, are not yet available in Malawi.

These vaccines offer advantages compared with previously available typhoid vaccines including being suitable for children older than six months and offering longer-lasting protection. Paired with improvements in safe water, sanitation, hygiene, TCVs have the potential to help protect children such as Patience. Researchers and advocates around the world are currently working to accelerate access to TCVs in countries, like Malawi, and families, like Hazielat’s, that need them most.

Photos and reporting by Thoko Chikondi/Sabin Vaccine Institute. This post is part of Stories of Typhoid, a series sharing the impact of typhoid on families in endemic countries.