Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Acting White: Big Guns Going After Malaria

Media mogul Ted Turner, and his money, are joining forces with the Methodists and Lutherans to help the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to eradicate malaria. So why is this so significant, other than the tragic fact that 1 million Africans, mostly children, die each year from the disease? Let’s take a quick peek behind the ‘curtains’.

Throughout human history, no single naturally occurring malady or man-made phenomena is more responsible for death than is malaria. The disease, although curable in modern times, continues to proliferate in tropical zones, and particularly in Africa. It is believed to be approximately 50,000 years old, perhaps as old as modern humanity itself. Inasmuch as the planet has experienced nearly 100 billion human births by some educated estimates, coupled with the knowledge that malaria is responsible for 10 million world-wide deaths in the last century, we can easily assigned at least one billion deaths to the disease. This makes it the daddy-long-legs of killers.

Nothing can kill so many without leaving its big fat thumb-print all over evolution, particularly pertaining to who ended up on top versus the bottom. In early human history, Africans that escaped/migrated from the continent not only slipped the clutches of deadly malaria, but exposed themselves to the bounty of better climates, animals, food, etc. In a cruel twist, the hemoglobin cells of many of those who remained mutated to a sickle shape, increasing their survival if they stayed put, but creating another deadly potential should they later choose, or be forced, to leave.

We can stop the science lesson here, but the take-away in all of this is that humanity, including who we are today, was and still is greatly influenced by the filtering and distributive nature of evolution. Forces such as malaria and such, which occurred in certain geographies, exert tremendous pressure on the results and disparities we continue to grapple with, to this day, and they deserve our attention. Go Ted.

James C. Collier


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Sleeperwithheavyeyes said...

Gates has been a pretty enlightened billionaire. I hope more people follow his example.

Anonymous said...

I grew up in Zambia where there is now widespread malaria. A regular treatment program is needed to control the "mozzies".
Your comments on better weather and farming available north of Africa is probably from the book Guns, Germs and Steel but my experience was that where I lived, it was incredibly easy to grow veggies and fruit. The problem is lack of property rights. If you grow bananas and you are unable to protect your hard work from others picking your fruit, will you continue growing bananas. No.
I hope Bill Gates tries to bring some property law and order to the government officials of Zambia as it was the best place in the world.

James C. Collier said...

anon 4:21 - Problems with property rights are a recent issue (say, the last 500 years maybe) while the fact that bannanas are not indigenous to Africa (speaking for Prof. Diamond) is an example of a much greater (impactful) evolutionary challenge.