The Bookworm Sez

Review: 'Lifeblood'

By Terri Schlichenmeyer
Real AspenJanuary 11, 2012
You’ve done everything you possibly could.

You took your vitamins faithfully, drank lots of OJ, and ate all the things the experts said to eat. You’ve avoided touching germy things and you’ve washed your hands raw.

And still, you got a cold.
"Lifeblood" by Alex Perry

Buy it on Amazon
Ah, but you’ll survive. The sniffles never killed anyone but, of course, not all sicknesses are so benign. In the new book “Lifeblood” by Alex Perry, you’ll read about one of the nastier ones, and global efforts to eradicate it.

As a journalist living and working in Africa, Alex Perry often wondered if aid organizations were effective. Does aid work? When a London PR firm contacted him, asking him to write about the launching of a new charity, Malaria No More UK, he knew he was about to answer his own question.

Malaria, says Perry, has plagued mankind for millennia and nowhere on earth is more malarial than Africa; specifically, Nigeria, Uganda, Kenya, and the Congo. There, a deadly subspecies of mosquito has evolved to feed “almost exclusively on humans.” The average person, he says, is bitten “tens of thousands of times a year,” which often results in malaria and millions of deaths, mostly of babies and children.

Almost 60 years ago, malaria was eradicated in the U.S., (thanks mostly to the use of DDT) but several efforts toward eradication in other countries failed over the years. And then Ray Chambers came along.

Chambers, an entrepreneur and self-made millionaire several times over, realized later in life that philanthropy made him happy. When he saw a picture of dying children, he was shaken enough to seek out academics and researchers to find a way to stop malaria. The method they ultimately chose was simple – and complicated.

If they could run their aid organization like a business, then millions of mosquito-killing nets could efficiently be distributed in Africa’s worst-hit areas. And if people were taught to use the nets properly – then used them - malaria deaths would surely plummet.

That was the simple part. But the almost-insurmountable problems of war, politics, misuse of funds, shadiness, and a do-or-die deadline made the project a definite challenge...

I found “Lifeblood” hard to read for two reasons: first, there’s a lot going on in this book and a lot to keep track of. Author and journalist Alex Perry moves from country to village to meeting so quickly that the names and locations became blurry in my mind and I’ll admit to being lost a few times. Perseverance helps, as will muddling through until you get your bearings again.

Secondly, this book is hard to read because of that which Perry uncovered: astounding instances of corruption and monetary waste, lackadaisical officials, and statistics on malaria itself that are stunning. Those, and the ultimate (but seemingly temporary) triumph he recounts, are what save this hard-hitting journalistic work.

I think this book is worth reading, but it’s not a fritter-away-the-afternoon kind of thing. If you’ve ever dug deep to donate, though, and wondered how your dollars help, “Lifeblood” fairly buzzes with information.

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