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Study Sheds Light on Malaria Epidemic

 Daniel Sledge

Looking to the past may help scientists better understand a potentially deadly problem in the present.

In a recent study, political science Assistant Professor Daniel Sledge revisited the rapid and dramatic demise of malaria in the American South during the 1930s, challenging scholars who have argued that the movement of Southern tenant farmers away from mosquito breeding grounds was the main reason for the decrease in malaria cases during the decade.

“Instead, we found that targeted public health interventions, supported by the federally backed development of state and local public health infrastructure, led to the decline of malaria despite widespread and deep-seated poverty,” Dr. Sledge says.

He and co-author George Mohler of Santa Clara University point specifically to the federal Works Progress Administration’s decision to drain millions of acres of land and the creation of local public health infrastructure as central factors.

The study, published in the American Journal of Public Health, could help confront modern-day malaria problems in parts of Africa, Central and Latin America, and Asia.

The infectious disease, transmitted by the bites of infected mosquitoes, killed an estimated 1.24 million people worldwide in 2010 and has devastated economies in the heavily populated, warm-climate regions of the global south.

“The work has far-reaching implications for those who work to eradicate malaria and similar diseases,” says Beth Wright, dean of the College of Liberal Arts. “Huge challenges remain, but such research brings about better understanding of potential solutions and could ultimately help save lives.”

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