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Lifeblood: How to Change the World One Dead Mosquito at a Time Hardcover – September 6, 2011
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"This little gem of a book ... has an important story to tell, and Perry tells it with precision and gusto. As dramatic as anything you will read in fiction." - The New York Times
"In Lifeblood, Alex Perry shows a reporter's eye and a writer's art to chart a revolution not just in the fight against malaria but in the global provision of aid. Anybody interested in how the world can realistically be made a better place should read this fantastic book." Tim Butcher, author of Blood River and Chasing the Devil
"With this book, Alex Perry confirms his reputation as one of the finest journalists working in Africa today. Lifeblood is intrepid, engaging, incisive, and immensely readable." Mark Gevisser, author of Thabo Mbeki: A Dream Deferred
"A hugely compelling account of one of the epic public health battles of our time. Brightly illuminated by startling details ... refreshingly free of the clichés that mar so much writing by Europeans about Africa." Alec Russell, Financial Times, author of Bring Me My Machine Gun
"A sweeping epic of a book. With graphic and chilling detail, Alex Perry shows us both the horrors of this lethal disease and that it can be beaten. Imperative reading for anyone involved in health or international development." Humphrey Hawksley, BBC Foreign Correspondent, author of Democracy Kills
The New York Times, August 20, 2011
“[a] gem of a book…it has an important story to tell, and Mr. Perry tells it with precision and gusto.”
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The story Perry relates is of MNM's efforts to end malaria deaths by 2015. To do so, the group sets an aggressive goal to finance and distribute hundreds of millions of bednets by the end of 2010. Chambers and malaria are a good match. By all accounts, malaria is not a medical problem, it's a logistics problem. By spraying insecticides and blanketing malarial districts in bednets, experts know that they can interrupt the cycle of the disease. Applied assiduously, the effects can be immediate and dramatic.
What better agent than Ray Chambers to get this done? Chambers believed that "[I]nequality was unintelligent. Poverty didn't just hurt the poor. It hurt everyone." Others reached the same conclusion. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation - seen in these pages often intersecting with Chambers and team - come from the same viewpoint. But the surprise of the story is that so do corporate actors like ExxonMobil and AngloGold Ashanti. Perry relates Exxon/Mobil's realization that Africa would become "the lifeblood of our growth" and that "we can't have these significant adverse impacts [caused by extended worker sick leaves and deaths] on our operations." Likewise, AngloGold Ashanti states plainly that malaria was "blowing a big hole in [our] bottom line."
In short, solving malaria has become good business for these companies. Chambers, by Perry's observation, espouses the worldview that "[I]nequalities created by profit are not, as many aid workers believe, an argument for discarding business methods - rather they are an argument for applying those methods to achieve similar success." The "unprecedented access" that Chambers and his team afford Perry make this a tale worthy of the best fiction. They criss-cross Africa relentlessly in 2009-2010 - Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Nigeria and, most dramatically, the Democratic Republic of Congo - in a relentless drive to meet their aggressive goals.
Who better to tell this tale than Alex Perry? A long-time studied observer of Africa, his obsession with the continent dates back to an ill-fated post-collegiate trip to the DRC (then Zaire) to with the goal of reaching a remote river, buying a pirogue and canoeing downriver back to town. After describing a hellish failure, Taylor dryly notes that the DRC "has become a lot more difficult" since. [For a somewhat better success at this type of venture, read Jeffrey Tayler's extraordinary Facing the Congo: A Modern-Day Journey into the Heart of Darkness]. Of more current note, his writing here is bookended by two trips to Apac, Uganda - the heart of malarial Africa. The differences he witnesses in those trips (in interim, Apac has been relentlessly sprayed and has distributed tens of thousands of bednets to its citizens) is enough to "tighten the throat and blur the eyes" of even this most hardened of observers.
Still, challenges remain. To meet the 2015 goal, the campaigners must be constantly vigilant against resurgence. Chambers right-hand man talks of the deflation caused by the realization that bednets "constantly expire...[and that] we had to go through three of four more cycles of nets and spraying at least before there was decent hope of eliminating malaria." And then, "It was like we'd been climbing this mountain for so long and when we finally got to the summit, we see four peaks ahead of us." That's a perfect analogy. As Dr. Paul Farmer and Tracy Kidder can tell you, when it comes to the challenges of global health, there are mountains beyond mountains.
A thrilling and deeply encouraging success story about the African continent
Beautifully written making this story of how the continent is eliminating malaria a fast-paced easy read.
Should be compulsory reading for anyone working in Public Health today!