Monday, October 12, 2009

The Fever Trail

Despite the strange surroundings of the new bedroom I’ve slept well. It’s a sensible move but both Anne and I feel unhappy about it. From sharing a bed, to separate beds, then separate rooms and now separate floors, it’s been a downward journey. Still Susanne my care-giver and I enjoyed this morning the stimulation of using a different shower and working out suitable procedures.

A complete change of topic. I’m reading a book Geoff lent me, The Fever Trail: In Search of the Cure for Malaria, by Mark Honigsbaum. My first gin and tonic was on my first flight overseas. We were flying to Perth on the first leg of a round the world trip. It was lunchtime as we flew over southern Australia. It seemed a sophisticated thing to do and I enjoyed the sweet--bitter taste as I watched the desert slide underneath.

The tonic contains quinine which for a long time was used as a cure for malaria. Honigsbaum points out that malaria was unknown among the American Indians until the Europeans who were carriers arrived. The local mosquitoes helped spread the disease.

The Indians had long used the bark of the cinchona tree – a relative of the coffee tree -as a cure for fever. It was discovered that it was good in coping with the symptoms of malaria. Market forces took over for the rare remedy. Including the adulteration of the product. The French, Dutch and English wanted to break the Spanish control of the trade and so they sent botanists and explorers to bring back seeds and plants.

These heroic adventurers, Richard Spruce, Charles Lesdger and Clements Markham, battling high Andean peaks and tropical jungles, rank with Livingstone and Mungo Park for their journeys; at risk of life all the time and dependent upon local tribesmen. I realise we hear about the British explorers in Africa because they added to Empire. Eventually Markham successfully smuggled out some specimens which enabled the British and Dutch to break the Spanish monopoly. Honigsbaum implies robbery but it could be argued that the need to combat malaria overrode that argument.

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