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Malaria Capers: More Tales of Parasites and People, Research and Reality Hardcover – October, 1991

4.3 out of 5 stars 4 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

While biotechnology has taken great strides during the last 25 years, Desowitz, professor of tropical medicine at the University of Hawaii, reports that because of an "inbalance between research and reality," health and health systems--especially in the tropical Third World--have deteriorated. Although this ironically titled book concerns a tragic topic, Desowitz's accounts of unsung heroes in the battle against disease, coupled with his humanity and storyteller's skill, make for engrossing reading--as does, for instance, his speculation that kala-azarper web , like malaria an ancient, insect-borne plague, may have killed the dinosaurs. Malaria, he recalls, was known as Roman fever until Mussolini drained the Pontine marshes. The author asserts that a vaccine against malaria has not been found because of misrepresentation, misuse of funds and outright ineptitude. Soaring costs have further discouraged corporate research, especially for unprofitable drugs that mostly benefit the world's poor. Illustrations not seen by PW.
Copyright 1991 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

Desowitz (tropical medicine, Univ. of Hawaii) continues the gripping tales of parasites he began in New Guinea Tapeworms and Jewish Grandmothers ( LJ 10/1/81). Focusing on poor tropical nations "where health and health systems have deteriorated during the past twenty-five years," Desowitz describes how visceral leishmaniasis (kala-azar, the black sickness) has returned to the Indian subcontinent after being almost eradicated. He also discusses how malaria, despite years of research, still wreaks havoc in the tropics. Using these two insect-transmitted infections as examples of the tropical world's state of health, Desowitz engagingly narrates "the course of their natural history, human history, and the historical events surrounding their elucidation by sometimes great, sometimes petty, and sometimes venal scientists." For all medical collections.
- James Swanson, Albert Einstein Coll. of Medicine, New York
Copyright 1991 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: W W Norton & Co Inc (October 1991)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 039303013X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393030136
  • Product Dimensions: 1.2 x 6 x 8.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,280,237 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By ealovitt HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWER on March 28, 2001
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Robert Desowitz leaves his readers with many 'cliff-hangers' in "The Malaria Capers". The version I read was published in 1991, so some of his unfinished stories may have endings by now---all except for the most important story of all, which is the search for an effective vaccine against the parasitic protozoans that cause malaria and kala azar (visceral leishmaniasis).
Immunization campaigns have eradicated smallpox and may be on the verge of eradicating polio, but the two diseases that this book focuses on cannot currently be prevented with vaccines. The danger of catching malaria or kala azar can be minimized---unfortunately the majority of the population at risk can't even afford the most effective preventive measure---a bed net soaked in insecticide (according to 2000 World Health Organization statistics this costs about $4, plus $1 per year for a supply of insecticide).
No wonder Desowitz gets so mad and preachy in "The Malaria Capers". Malaria still kills over one million people a year (another 2000 WHO statistic) - most of them young children. None of the vaccines that scientists were working on when this book was written have proven to be effective, which is exactly what Desowitz predicted. In his last chapter, "The Vaccine Felonies", he excoriates the Malaria researchers who spent their AID grants on vaccines that were already proven to be ineffective and unsafe for humans. While doing so, they diverted funding from proven preventive measures such as bed nets, put Owl monkeys on the endangered species list, and (even more feloniously according to our laws) lavished the grant money on themselves and their office assistants.
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Format: Paperback
Robert Desowitz's attempt to chronicle the successes and failures of man's quest to leash the ravages of tropical disease (especially malaria and leishmaniasis), results in a very engaging and easy to read book. Through his entertaining and at times, cynical approach, the author explains how throughout history, man's desire to rid himself of the pestilence of infectious disease has sometimes met with success (as in the case of smallpox), as well as with failure (as in the case of malaria). If for instance, we take the case of malaria, just in the figures utilized by the author in his accounting of the US Agency for International Development (USAID) effort to combat malaria, he chronicled over $100 million "thrown at" this disease, with the disease still flourishing today in many parts of the world! The author's method of "personalizing" or presenting the experiences and challenges faced by many people in this world at the individual level, succeeds in engaging the reader from the very first chapter. The opening account of the Indian woman, Susheela, who tries desperately to save her dying daughter from visceral leishmaniasis, only to discover that the medicine required to save her daughter is grossly unaffordable, rivets the reader's attention. Here is a personal account of a human tragedy, which could have been told from the perspective of too many families in developing countries even in today's modern world of globalized interdependence. Additionally, Mr. Desowitz does a good job of giving the reader a historical context in which many of the major events in the history of public health, actually took place.Read more ›
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Format: Paperback
I published this review in 1992. Little has changed since, but for Amazon I have updated a few points.

The biggest disease threat in the world is not AIDS. Not lung cancer. Not heart disease. It's malaria, which kills more people every year than AIDS has killed altogether. (2007 update: No longer true; AIDS now kills about as many people as malaria each year.)

Most of them are young children, with pregnant mothers also a prime target. Almost all are poor, powerless and colored.

And their situation today is worse, considerably worse, than when the rich countries amassed their advanced medical and public health techniques to attack malaria a couple of generations ago.

In this angry book, Robert Desowitz, a (now retired) professor of tropical medicine, medical microbiology and public health at the University of Hawaii, says it did not have to be, and, as he has in past books, he points the finger of blame when other commentators are too scared to.

True, malaria is a tough foe. Of several kinds, only one, caused by a parasite called Plasmodium falciparum, is often fatal, but it is a fearsome predator. Where falciparum reigns, the infant mortality rate runs 40 to 50 percent.

And its imperium is spreading. Malaria used to be relatively uncommon in the cities of black Africa, which, bleak as they were, were inhospitable to mosquitoes. The cities have grown enormously, and failed attempts to eradicate the principal mosquito vector merely bred mosquitoes with urban tastes.

Malaria, however, is not only a tropical disease.
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