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Book and Media Reviews
July 16, 2008

The Making of a Tropical Disease—A Short History of Malaria

JAMA. 2008;300(3):336-337. doi:10.1001/jama.300.3.336

Now that The Gates Foundation, Ted Turner, and the Bush administration have all decided to eliminate malaria from the world, many health workers (especially those at the recent Gates-sponsored “Eradicate Malaria” convocation in Seattle, Washington) should read and reflect on the lessons presented in this excellent monograph, The Making of a Tropical Disease—A Short History of Malaria. The book, a high-quality publication in the Biographies of Disease series from the Johns Hopkins University Press, is a readable combination of hard facts and reality-based insights while presenting an often-ignored perspective on historical attempts to eliminate malaria. Books on this disease generally stress the diagnosis and treatment of individual patients. Most practitioners are first-rate at understanding the pathology of the illness and how to therapeutically interrupt its course, but they are unusually poor at comprehending that diseases like malaria are ultimately controlled by larger social, economic, and political factors. AIDS, obesity, heart disease, and tuberculosis are among those maladies that are hopelessly dependent on extramedical forces. Until researchers accept that there is more to health than the creation of some medicinal “magic bullet,” they are doomed, in F. Scott Fitzgerald's well-known words, to “beat on, ceaselessly, boats against the current . . . ,” with little impact on the disease itself. Packard's book reminds readers—through the lessons of history—of the factors that must be addressed before malaria can be controlled, let alone eradicated.

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