"Where malaria prospers most, human societies have prospered least," economists Jeffrey Sachs and Pia Malaney have observed of the world's preeminent tropical parasitic disease.1 In any year, 10 percent of the global population suffer its debilitating chills and fevers, and more than one million die. Ninety percent of these deaths occur in sub-Saharan Africa; most are children under the age of five. The disease is currently undergoing a resurgence because of resistance to drugs and insecticides; climate change may play a role as well.
The link from malaria to underdevelopment is much more powerful than is generally appreciated. Well beyond medical costs and forgone income, the disease encumbers economic development indirectly. A high burden of malaria encourages a disproportionately high fertility rate--parents want additional children to replace the ones they are likely to lose. A high fertility rate, in turn, can lead to smaller investments in education and health for each child. And malaria can stifle foreign investment, depress tourism and hinder the movement of labor between regions.
This article was originally published with the title A Death Every 30 Seconds.