Why is malaria the most important cause of economic distress?
While malaria is clearly a huge burden on many aspects of society, including economies, in many parts of the world, I’m not sure it’s fair to say that it’s the leading cause of economic distress. However, it certainly contributes to slow economic progress, through mechanisms related to the “poverty trap” hypothesis developed by Jeffrey Sachs, a professor at Colombia University in New York City.
Sachs believes that factors such as disease ecology, and especially if magnified through poor public health policy and weak health infrastructure, interact with other variables such as governance and natural resource distribution to create negative feedback loops that lock a country or a region in poverty.
For health specifically, the argument is that people who are sick are more likely to miss work, or school in the case of children, or be less productive even if they do go, because of their illness. This loss of working adults and loss of education for children results in a slower economy and makes it harder for a country to grow and develop. Given that malaria is one of the developing world’s most prevalent and deadly diseases, it certainly makes up a large contribution to this portion of the poverty trap, but other high burden infections such as HIV/AIDS, diarrheal illnesses and worms also contribute heavily.