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Shah explains economic, cultural history of malaria

Sonia Shah
Investigative journalist and author Sonia Shah discusses her malaria research at convocation Sept. 25. — Kristin Canning/TRUMPET

Malaria has influenced and shaped human society throughout all of history, Sonia Shah said Tuesday, Sept. 25 at Wartburg College.

Shah, an investigative journalist and author of “The Fever,”spoke to about 350 students, faculty, staff and Waverly community members for the first convocation on campus in Neumann Auditorium. Her address helped to begin the Wartburg Malaria Initiative on campus.

“We’ve had malaria for a really long time. But, if we want to get rid of this thing it’s not going to be about finding the perfect science or the perfect amount of money. It’s really about finding the political will,” she said. “I just want to congratulate everyone who’s working on the Malaria Initiative here. I think it’s such a good fight and it’s a way to get involved.”

Wartburg students have been actively involved in the fight against malaria in the past. Alumna Jessica Nipp is an Evangelical Lutheran Church in America Malaria Campaign Associate, alumni Abhay Nadipuram and Rachel Coleman provided mosquito nets to villages in Guyana through a Davis Project for Peace and now Kelsey Nulph is leading the Wartburg Malaria Initiative. The campaign will raise money to purchase mosquito nets, medicine and educational materials to be sent around the world.

“It’s not a mystery. We’ve known how to cure and prevent malaria for hundreds of years,” Shah said.

Monica Edeker said she did not know much about malaria before the convocation and said she was most surprised that even though we know how to prevent malaria, we’re not.

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Three challenges have prevented the eradication of malaria, Shah said. The scientific, economic and cultural challenges have all contributed to the success of the disease in human populations globally, and have caused a political problem we are currently trying to remedy, Shah said.

Edeker said the cultural

challenge was hardest for her to overcome.

“Since it doesn’t affect me personally I didn’t really know much about how to help. I might not do much now since I am in school, but maybe in the future,” Edeker said.

Edeker said she plans to use the Wartburg Malaria Initiative to better understand how she can help and be involved in the political problem of malaria.

Shah said the power of malaria astounded her during her research. She said that the parasite had a significant role in both the rise and the fall of the Roman Empire and in current global economics.

“That’s probably its biggest contributor to the world we live in today. There are some obvious relationships between economics and malaria. If you’re poor, you’re more likely to get malaria,” she said. “But what we’re finding out now is that malaria can cause poverty too.”

Shah emphasized the importance of continuing the study of malaria, and said that it was a lifetime’s work. Her solution is to empower local communities through agricultural changes, and economic uplift programs. She said the local solutions will help communities end a “malarious way of life.”

“Mosquitoes always held this fearsome power in my mind as a child,” Shah said. “As I learned more about malaria, I’ve understood that mosquitoes have this fearsome power over really all of us.”

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