The near-success story of one man’s fight to control malaria in Africa, related by Time Africa bureau chief Perry (Falling Off the Edge: Travels Through the Dark Heart of Globalization, 2008).
That man is Ray Chambers, a self-made millionaire for whom money was distinctly not everything, but who discovered that helping the poor, especially children dying of malaria in Africa, would be the most satisfying thing he could do. Thus was born the idea of distributing insecticide-treated bed nets in sub-Saharan Africa. Though it wasn’t a new idea, Chambers adopted the business model that had worked for him on Wall Street, leveraging funding from multiple sources and specifying targets and timelines. A major key was Chambers’ ability to sweet-talk transnational corporations into becoming funders, noting that it was in their own self-interest to support bed nets, thus reducing absenteeism and improving workers’ health and morale. Starting in 2009, Chambers’ target was 300 million nets, reaching 600 million people by the end of 2010. He came close, but the target grew; however, he succeeded in getting the goods, just not in time. The Chambers story must be told, Perry writes, especially in light of the gloom-and-doom saying of so many NGOs and government agencies who were often critical—and whom the author takes to task for inertia, if not downright lying in their fundraising efforts). Perry bookends the text with before and after visits to Apac, Uganda, a hopeless malarial hell before the Chambers campaign. The author cites impressive data on disease reduction, clinic-building, etc., but there are still questions: How do you sustain disease control, teach proper net use and replace nets when they wear out. What happens when insecticide resistance develops? How do you coordinate control programs with vaccine and drug development in a continent beset by corruption, scandal, poverty, tribal war and massive refugee movements?
In that light, Chambers’ story is the most upbeat to date—almost emblematic of the old adage, “where there’s a will there’s a way.”