Women receive mosquito nets in Babile district in eastern Ethiopia during the largest bed net distribution campaign in the history of Africa, 2005.
Gates Foundation / Flickr

Over the long course of human history, no infectious disease killed more people than malaria. Called the “mother of fevers” by the ancient Chinese, malaria has plagued us since we evolved from apes and it once affected the better part of the globe. By the turn of the twentieth century, thanks to a combination of industrialization, urbanization, and agricultural development in the temperate world, the disease had been corralled into the impoverished tropics. To this day, despite a $2-billion-a-year global campaign, the mosquito-borne disease still infects some 300 million people a year in those parts of the world and causes over half a million deaths, most of them among children and pregnant women. 

The story of malaria is inseparable from the history of poverty. The conditions of poverty heighten the risk of malaria infection; the disease slows GDP growth in affected societies by 1.3 percent every year, according to a study by

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  • SONIA SHAH is a science journalist and the author of The Fever: How Malaria Has Ruled Humankind for 500,000 Years.
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