Of all the scourges that have plagued mankind, malaria is the worst. Its path of destruction, via the Plasmodium falciparum parasite and the Anopheles mosquito, dates back millennia, as evidenced by traces of falciparum in Egyptian mummies from as early as 3200BC. Over time, malaria has actually changed global history - by killing the powerful Tutankhamen in 1324BC, Alexander the Great in 326BC, Genghis Khan in 1227 and Oliver Cromwell in 1658, to name a few - and afflicting the influential: eight US presidents, from George Washington to John F Kennedy, were all infected.
More important is the fact that malaria is still with us, killing an estimated one million people a year in three dozen countries and infecting up to half a billion more, causing sporadic bouts of illness that force school absences, job interruptions, and among the hardest-hit survivors, severe brain damage.
In the swampy lowlands of Africa and Asia, malaria breeds poverty because it halts development. And what makes this toll particularly wrenching is that malaria is preventable: a $10 bed net treated with insecticide, combined with area spraying, cuts child deaths by 70 per cent.
So why does malaria persist? Simple, according to Lifeblood: How to Change the World One Dead Mosquito at a Time - the foreign governments and aid groups traditionally charged with malaria's eradication never came up with the right business plan. "A business that consistently delivers subpar results, or misses deadlines, or cannot account for money spent will eventually go bust or at least stop winning tenders," author and journalist Alex Perry points out. "Not so in aid, where good projects were trumpeted, but bad ones, I learned, [were] merely downplayed." Non-governmental organisations (NGOs) may have worked hard against malaria, Perry says, but they issued few performance evaluations or pink slips. "Efficiency was not the priority."
Enter the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), eight minimum standards of poverty alleviation and health, which the United Nations vowed to make universal by 2015. One of those MDGs called for halting and starting to reverse malaria; associated goals included halving poverty and cutting child mortality and maternal mortality worldwide.
With their goals, guidelines and deadlines, these MDGs were "in effect, a rudimentary business plan", Perry writes. And that was good because it got rich people thinking about "the paradox of millionaire philanthropy". He continues: "Conscience was dropping a bill in the poor box once a year; self-interest was setting up your own foundation and monitoring how your money was spent."
Names that come to mind here include Bill and Melinda Gates, and certainly Perry writes about the Microsoft founder's astounding contribution to wiping out global childhood disease.
But Lifeblood focuses especially on a lesser-known hero of the malaria campaign: Ray Chambers, self-made millionaire and leveraged buyout king from a poor neighbourhood in Newark, New Jersey.
Chambers was inspired by both the MDGs and mavericks such as Steven Phillips, an occupational medicine specialist with ExxonMobil in Nigeria, who talked his bosses into taking on HIV and malaria in the private sector because, well, it was good business.
Chambers had a similar epiphany. As a now-famous story goes, the millionaire, one day in 2006, was spending time with Jeffrey Sachs, the famed development economist; the two men were co-sponsoring 13 "Millennium Villages" as a showcase of efforts to achieve the eight MDGs.
Picking up a photograph Sachs had taken in Malawi, a charmed Chambers commented on the angelic sleeping children he thought he saw there. But he was swiftly corrected: "Ray, you don't understand," an impassioned Sachs told him. "They're all in malarious comas. They're all dying."
And the children did die. That nailed it for Chambers. "I'd like to come up with some business concepts," he told Sachs, "to see if we can't save a million children a year."