Health » KDMC Workshops

Malaria: A Longevity Buzzkill

While the spread of Malaria via mosquitoes mainly threatens to children in poor countries, bites from the pesky insects still make some Americans a little uneasy.

By Mike Traphagen

It's tough to live to be 100 if an insect threatens your life before you reach your teens.

This isn't a concern of children in the industrialized world, but poor countries, especially those in Africa, are threatened by Malaria, mosquito-borne disease caused by a parasite that causes fever, chills and flu-like illness. Left untreated, they may develop severe complications and die.

In 2008, an estimated 190 — 311 million cases of malaria occurred worldwide and 708,000 — 1,003,000 people died, most of them young children in sub-Saharan Africa, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

Bill Gates, the founder of Microsoft and co-creater of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, addressed the enduring threat in poor countries during a February 2009 speech to philanthropists and American CEOs. He challenged the group with, "How do we stop a deadly disease that's spread by mosquitoes?" He noted that Malaria was eradicated from temperates zones by killing mosquitoes with DDT and treating patients with quinine.

Now, ironically, what happened was, it was eliminated from all the temperate zones, which is where the rich countries are. So we can see: 1900, it's everywhere. 1945, it's still most places. 1970, the U.S. and most of Europe have gotten rid of it. 1990, you've gotten most of the northern areas. And more recently you can see it's just around the equator.

Malaria Deaths in Africa

View full map

Source: United Nations Environment Programme

Deaths actually peaked at a bit over five million in the 1930s. So it was absolutely gigantic. And the disease was all over the world. A terrible disease. It was in the United States. It was in Europe. People didn't know what caused it until the early 1900s, when a British military man figured out that it was mosquitoes. So it was everywhere. And two tools helped bring the death rate down. One was killing the mosquitoes with DDT. The other was treating the patients with quinine, or quinine derivatives.

Gates noted that bed nets have effectively reduced malaria infections via mosquitoes, and bed net funding is up.

In a separate topic, he also stressed the need for better teachers in the U.S., asking the group "how do you make great teachers?"

Contrasting Dropout Rates and Best Schools

View full map

Source: Kids Count; Newsweek

The group Kids Count calculated the percent of teens who are high school dropouts, between the ages of 16-19. Nevada, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Georgia show the highest dropout rates. Now look at which schools Newsweek has deemed "America's Top Public Schools." There's a concentration of best schools in the Northeast while states with high dropout rates have very few top schools.


Knight Digital Media Center
About this Project