Thursday, July 8, 2010

THE FEVER, a courageous book bears witness to the drama of man's struggle to end malaria

Yesterday the Boston Globe ( reviewed a new book called The Fever, by Sonia Shaw, about the impact malaria has had on the world over the last half a million years. I went out and bought the book and was glad I did. Shaw frames the drama in the books first pages:
“We’ve had plenty of time – our entire evolutionary history, in fact – to adapt to malaria, and it to us. Or, at least, to devise tools and strategies to blunt its appetite. And yet, despite the millennia-long battles between us, malaria still manages to infect at least 300 million of us – that is one out of twenty-one human beings on the planet – and kills nearly one million, year after year. As an extinguisher of human lives, write the malariologists Richard Carter and Kamini Mendis, malaria historically and to this day ‘has few rivals’. It remains essentially wild and untamed, despite its great antiquity.”

The book is a well researched and well written account of the ferocity of the disease and our long struggle to conquer it. But Shaw’s most important attributes are the courage and commitment it took to personally bear witness to the impact of malaria in Africa, India and elsewhere around the world, and to write about something to which most people are otherwise content to remain oblivious.
It’s tempting to describe malaria’s toll as senseless, but in the most tragic of ways it makes perfect sense because malaria affects people so vulnerable and voiceless that there have been no markets – economic or political – for solving this problem. Shaw gives a sense of how that is beginning to change as well. Having read her book from the perspective of having just finished writing an account of the race to develop the world’s first malaria vaccine – my new book, THE IMAGINATIONS OF UNREASONABLE MEN to be published in November by PublicAffairs ( – I had a renewed appreciation for just how formidable is the challenge ahead.

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