Award-winning author and investigative journalist Sonia Shah will present a free talk tomorrow at 8 p.m. in Campbell Hall based on her latest book, The Fever: How Malaria Has Ruled Humankind for 500,000 Years, which focuses on the politics and science of malaria.

The talk is part of Arts & Lecture’s new series, “Speaking of Health,” which features prominent medical experts and journalists discussing their work exploring innovative approaches towards dealing with major health matters, including cancer and Alzhiemer’s disease. Shah, whose previous work has touched upon human rights, science, global health and international politics, will elaborate on the history and theories behind the disease based on five years of reporting in areas such as Cameroon, Malawi and Panama.

Shah said she is honored to have been invited to speak at UCSB and looks forward to informing students and faculty on the far-reaching effects that malaria has on society and how it has altered the course of human history.

“Malaria has been responsible for one-half of all human deaths since the Stone Age — it has had a tremendous effect on our species,” Shah said in an e-mail. “We’ve had it since we evolved from the apes! You could say we are a ‘malarious’ species that way. And it has shaped our history: malaria’s played a role in the rise and fall of Rome, the settlement of the New World, the building of the Panama Canal. The list goes on and on. Malaria has shaped the global economy — this single disease constricts GDP growth by 1.3 percent every year. The story of malaria is fascinating, and it is much bigger than one disease.”

According to Mark Juergensmeyer, Director of the Orfalea Center for Global and International Studies, professor of sociology and affiliate professor of religious studies, it is important for individuals to understand the importance of global studies and the knowledge it brings to communities.

“One of the things that global studies covers is global health — everything from environmental issues that affect health, such as the bad air quality in Beijing and Mexico City in recent years, to the kind of pathogens that can bring disease around the world,” Juergensmeyer said in an e-mail. “But before we panic over the resurgence of malaria, it’s good to keep in mind the difference between pandemics and global diseases.”

The disparity between the two terms, according to Jeurgensmeyer, is their level of controllability.

“A pandemic is an epidemic on a global scale — the rapid spread of bacteria and viruses that can decimate whole populations,” Jeurgensmeyer said in an e-mail. “A global disease is something that is worrisome, in that it can travel everywhere, such as the appearance of Bird Flu in China in recent weeks that can incubate in a passenger on a jumbo jet and arrive in Los Angeles in a matter of hours. But global diseases, as awful and as transnational as they may be, are controllable. With proper precautions and medical treatment, they can be limited. They are still matters of global concern, since all of us are tied together on this planet, and what affects people here or there, affects people everywhere. But we can be optimistic that with care and concern, this global hazard will not take over the world.”

Associate Director of Arts & Lectures Roman Baratiak said Shah’s talk will explore modern outlooks on an age-old disease that has been around for centuries and will reveal the important of her work as a journalist.

“My expectations for the lecture are that students and community members will have a greater understanding not only of the science of malaria but also the politics of the disease,” Baratiak said. “They will also gain a greater appreciation for the hard work involved in being an investigative journalist working in the developing world.”

Alain Garkanian, a first-year biology major, said he hopes to learn more about the economic and health effects of malaria during Shah’s talk.

“I think her topic or inquiry of malaria is of huge importance to not only the world today but also in researching the disease’s origin and configuring why we don’t take a bigger action in preventing future cases of contracting the disease,” Garkanian said. “We can conclude that the annihilation of such a disease would create a healthier world, as many people in third world countries are exposed to this disease every day in large numbers.”

Books will be available for purchase at the end of the event and a book signing party will take place after Shah completes her presentation.

Sonia Shah mug


A version of this article appeared on page 6 of the April 17th, 2013’s print edition of the Nexus.