Hard Times in Venezuela Breed Malaria as Desperate Flock to Mines

Hard Times in Venezuela Breed Malaria as Desperate Flock to Mines, by Nicolas Casey. Many turn to panning for black-market gold in the watery pits of mines, where mosquitoes infect them. Once they return home to recover, the disease spreads.

The 12th time Reinaldo Balocha got malaria, he hardly rested at all. With the fever still rattling his body, he threw a pick ax over his shoulder and got back to work — smashing stones in an illegal gold mine.

As a computer technician from a big city, Mr. Balocha was ill-suited for the mines, his soft hands used to working keyboards, not the earth. But Venezuela’s economy collapsed on so many levels that inflation had obliterated his salary, along with his hopes of preserving a middle-class life.


Karl Marx’s ideas still wreaking havoc

Conquering malaria was essential to Venezuela’s development, but now malaria is returning from the remote jungle areas where it quietly persisted and is now at levels not seen in Venezuela for 75 years.

Venezuela rose only after malaria declined.

It was the 1920s and another resource had set off a bonanza — the black gold of oil, discovered in massive supply.

But a vast malaria hot zone, then two-thirds of Venezuela, stood between the country and its riches. … [There were] rural epidemics of malaria and the waves of migration to the country’s oil fields.

Freeing the country of malaria became pivotal to Venezuela’s development, said Dr. Oletta, the former health minister. “Only once malaria was gone, roads could come, industry,” he said. “This was a sick country, and when it got well, things changed.” …

Teams across the Venezuelan countryside built irrigation ditches to drain pools of standing water, distributed quinine and constructed cinder block homes in rural areas so that mosquitoes had fewer places to breed. … But it was [the] use of insecticides — initially DDT, then other substances — that began to turn the tide. The walls of nearly every rural home in the country were sprayed, a technique that killed mosquitoes when they landed to rest. Fumigators would leave an envelope showing the date they would return.

By 1949, malaria deaths had fallen drastically: to nine per 100,000 people from 300.