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Suppression of malaria, economic development, and electricity

December 22, 2012 - 13:24 -- William Jobin

We are all sure in - our hearts - that suppression of malaria in Africa will improve the rate of economic development. Recently this hope was formalized in an African Futures Brief by Moyer and Emde at the Pardee Center of the University of Denver in their Brief #5 published in November. Their projections indicated that driving the malaria prevalence down to zero in Africa by 2025 would by 2050 result in an increase in income of $30 per year per person, compared to the current average for Africa in 2010 of only $1.25. Obviously this would result in important improvements in living conditions which would gradually accelerate and even solidify the gains in the fight against malaria. Their projections for 2050 would be virtually permanent eradication, which might be very possible with that kind of increase in income........

This suggests to me a new way of looking at suppression of malaria and economic development; namely that one will help the other. And thinking of steps along the way; we would progress to a long period with lower malaria prevalence and increases in productivity and income until people could afford to screen in their sleeping areas. This would then help get us to near zero prevalence, and further increases in economic productivity and income. Then the final step would occur when we had affordable electricity and could use fans to make sleeping behind screens tolerable during the hot and humid malaria seasons - an important impediment to effectiveness of bednets and even screened windows....... This is the situation in industrialized countries which had malaria during their hot summers, but have cold winters. This could also then be the situation in Africa; solidifying suppression until it becomes virtual eradication........ It was also intriguing to read in the recent WHO papers on the history of malaria suppression in Turkmenistan and Mauritius, that malaria disappeared the same year that electricity became common in rural areas as well as in the cities. In Turkmenistan the situation was aided by concentration of the population along rivers where hydroelectric dams were easy to build. This also recalls the rapid suppression of malaria in the Tennessee River Valley of the US as soon as they installed 17 hydropower dams........

Thus if we envision suppression of malaria, economic development, and affordable electricity as components in a beautiful and reinforcing cycle, perhaps historians, economists, and other people thinking of the larger picture can look again at our current attempts at suppressing malaria, and come up with even more exciting predictions for the African future.

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