Erin and I were biking to a restaurant nearby our house for a “date” – trying to take some time for ourselves in our busy schedules when I felt the first telltale signs. About an hour earlier I was feeling exhausted at the end of the work day, but it was then that I started to feel my back stiffening up. By the time we ordered our meal I was achy and cold. Needless to say we took the pizza as takeout and soon I was sweating it out with a modest 38 degree fever in clothes and under a blanket in our 32 degree room. I have a pretty consistent set of symptoms when I get malaria, and lucky for me they’re quite mild (or at least have been so far). The next couple of days will be a bit of a roller coaster of my fever going up and down with the treatment and Advils, and by Friday I’ll be good as new.

I know most Canadians will never have the privilege of experiencing malaria, and those of us who do happen to find ourselves at risk endure a few unpleasant days (for some more unpleasant than others) but good treatment exists and it is cheap. I don’t have to think twice about paying for a malaria test or the drugs – it’s a no brainer. The ease of that decision reminded me of an article I read recently on an interesting application of psychology to the root causes of poverty. You can read it at The basic premise is that we only have a certain capacity for making tradeoff decisions, and that capacity is also linked to our capacity for self-control. There are some fascinating implications on what that means for the ability of those in poverty to make rational, optimal financial decisions.

I think this type of research provides further justification for health insurance programs like the Mutual Health Insurance Scheme in Ghana beyond the basic idea of health insurance. If people have to use up less of their tradeoff decision-making capacity on health issues, then hopefully they will be able to make better financial decisions elsewhere. It’s also a great reminder of why our team is working on supporting responsible markets that work for small holder farmers. While economic growth isn’t the be all and end all of development, it certainly makes some decisions much easier. The more money farmers make, the less time and effort they have to spend to decide which of their children to send to school, or if they’ll see a proper doctor about an injury that’s keeping them from the farm.

Malaria is definitely not very much fun. But it’s not going to kill me, and that certainly puts into perspective both how lucky I am and how far we’ve got to go.

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3 Responses to Malaria

  1. Richard Renaud says:

    Même malade, tu es brillant, cher Ben…

  2. Daniel says:

    Hey Ben,

    I enjoy this little insight on poverty and decision-making. It’s to some extent analytical and also relateable; I have to make these trade-off decisions all the time whether I’m aware of it or not.

    Hope you’re feeling better soon.


  3. Tom Curran says:

    Awesome post. I found the article quite interesting, and can definitely relate to the pressure that making a large number of decisions exerts on an individual.

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