Malaria's Toll

Jason Riley | 21 Aug 2006
Wall Street Journal

...Lance Laifer, a hedge-fund manager in Connecticut, is a searcher. The horrors of malaria came to his attention in May 2005 via a Charlie Rose interview with Columbia University's Jeffrey Sachs, the development expert (and quintessential planner). "I didn't know anything about malaria," Mr. Laifer said in a recent interview. "I didn't know it still existed. I didn't know it was still killing people. I thought it was eradicated a long time ago. I was just flabbergasted."

Mr. Laifer turned his outrage into something of an obsession. He began researching malaria intensely; and he also ran some numbers. Bed nets, medications, insecticide, swamp drainage, etc., came to less than $10,000 for a typical African village of 1,000 people. "That's a doable number," Mr. Laifer concluded.

And then he picked up the phone, turning to friends and associates who help him organize an annual fundraiser to fight cancer. "I basically had a group of people that I know have very big hearts in this area, specifically in dealing with children," he says. "So I called them and said, 'What do you know about malaria and how many people are dying from it?'"

That was the starting point. Where it will end is anyone's guess. Inside of a year, and working with George Ayittey of the Free Africa Foundation, Mr. Laifer's efforts have spawned five "malaria-free zones" in Ghana, Nigeria and Kenya. Expansion to Ivory Coast and Benin is in the works. He adds that he has the financing to roll out additional zones this year but -- ever the searcher -- first wants to assess what's working and what isn't. If all is going well, "next year I see us doing something like 100 villages."

Mr. Laifer says a future focus will also be DDT, the pesticide used by Americans and Europeans in the 1940s to win domestic fights against malarial mosquitoes. Indoor spraying of DDT is by far the cheapest and most effective way to control the disease. One South Africa province employing DDT saw malaria infections and deaths drop 96% over a three-year span...

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Malaria's Toll, By Jason L. Riley, Wall Street Journal, August 21, 2006; Page A11