We examine the effect of malaria on economic development in Africa over the very long run. Using data on the prevalence of the mutation that causes sickle cell disease, we measure the impact of malaria on mortality in Africa prior to the period in which formal data were collected. Our estimate is that in the more afﬂicted regions, malaria lowered the probability of surviving to adulthood by about ten percentage points, which is twice the current burden of the disease. The reduction in malaria mortality has been roughly equal to the reduction in other causes of mortality. We then ask whether the estimated burden of malaria had an effect on economic development in the period before European contact. Using data at the ethnic group level, we ﬁnd little evidence of a negative relationship between malaria burden and population density or other measures of development.\
And here’s a summary of the main finding:
With estimates of the extent of malaria mortality in hand, we then turn to look at the impact of the disease on economic development. We present regressions of a number of measures of development within Africa on a malaria burden measure that we create based on sickle cell prevalence. Of particular note, we apply our analysis to a data set measured at the level of ethnic groups as an alternative to more common country-level analyses. We present simple OLS results, as well as results in which we instrument for malaria burden, using an index of climactic suitability for malaria transmission. The result of this statistical exercise is that we find no evidence of malaria burden negatively affecting historical economic development.
There is more good news in the area of public health. A couple of days ago I posted on the decline of human mortality rates in the tropics. Now the UN agency for HIV/AIDS, UNAIDS, reports that HIV infection rates, especially of the mother-to-child variety, are on a downward trend.
New infections with H.I.V. have dropped by half in the past decade in 25 poor and middle-income countries, many of them in Africa, the continent hardest hit by AIDS, the United Nations said Tuesday.
The greatest success has been in preventing mothers from infecting their babies, but focusing testing and treatment on high-risk groups like gay men, prostitutes and drug addicts has also paid dividends, said Michel Sidibé, the executive director of the agency U.N.AIDS.
Some regions, like Southern Africa and the Caribbean, are doing particularly well, while others, like Eastern Europe, Central Asia and the Middle East, are not. Globally, new infections are down 22 percent from 2001, when there were 3.2 million. Among newborns, they fell 40 percent, to 330,000 from 550,000.
The good news first. According to UNICEF, the global under five mortality dropped by about 28% between 1990 and 2008. In other words, 10,000 less children are dying daily worldwide than was the case in 1990.
But that is as good as it gets. The sorry fact is that millions of children under the age of five still die every year from treatable illnesses – malaria, pneumonia and diarrhea being the top child-killers. Last year alone saw the loss of 8.8 million children under the age of five. India, the DRC and Nigeria were the worst hit – together reporting 40% of all under-five deaths. Africa and Asia, combined, reported 93% of global under five deaths.