Subtitled: How To Change The World One Dead Mosquito At A Time. Naturally, since it’s the middle of the summer in Tallahassee, Florida, this is a title I could not resist. As you know, normally I am all for the survival of Nature’s creatures, and I recognize that some species I may consider odious have their place in the food chain, and are remarkable in their adaptation…Well, Whatever. I would have a party if we could make mosquitos extinct. As one friend said to me, fish eat mosquito larvae. And I said, then the fish will have to eat something else.
But I digress. The book is about malaria, which the author says is the oldest known disease. In the beginning of the book, it was killing a million people a year. If you survive it, it isn’t as if you’re done. You will continue to have flare-ups for the rest of your life.
On a personal note, l will mention that my ex-husband (who was a very brief husband) had contracted it in Vietnam. I didn’t believe him, since he was prone to exaggeration and self-aggrandizement. It turned out he was actually telling the truth most of the time, but who knew? So I didn’t believe it until we actually got married, and one of the presents we got from one of his friends was a certificate for a pint of blood in “Skip’s” name. It was the best wedding present we got, and then I believed him.
Only the first two chapters of the book are devoted to the disease of malaria and the science of it. The rest of the book is devoted to the business of eliminating it. This part may have turned off some people, but not me.
So most of the book is devoted to following around one guy, Ray Chambers. Described as a Wall Street genius and gajillionaire, he got bored. And wanted to do something “good”. So he studied it with a sort of cold eye, trying to determine where he could do the most good for the least money.
The answer was: malaria. It wasn’t going to take 20 years of research. It wasn’t elusive, like cancer. They already knew what worked: bed nets. Even better, bed nets treated with insecticide. And spraying insecticide to kill mosquitos. The reason bed nets worked so well all by themselves is that mosquitos are most active when people are sleeping. It seems so obvious. It was a low-tech solution. So why wasn’t it being done already?
The answer lies partly in the culture of “aid”. Aid organizations have poured money into various causes without much of an impact. So Chambers looked at it as a business. You have to show results. How many bed nets did we distribute, and how much did the death and infection rate decline?
You get an insight into the whole aid process, reading this book. It has become a sort of juggernaut. It reminds me of college sociology, when studying organizations whose main focus turns into the survival of the organization, rather than the mission they started with.
There is a place in Uganda which is Ground Zero for malaria…Lake Kwania. Specifically, a town called Apac. When the author first visits, the only people he sees on the streets are two naked men mumbling to themselves. The doctor in the local clinc explains that they have brain damage from having malaria as babies.
The next time the author visits, after the Chambers campaign, they are having parties in the streets. Outdoor cafes. The town has come to life again. It was a beautiful scene.