Malaria and Early African Development: Evidence from the Sickle Cell Trait
We examine the effect of malaria on economic development in Africa over the very long run. Using data on the prevalence of the mutation that causes sickle cell disease we measure the impact of malaria on mortality in Africa prior to the period in which formal data were collected. Our estimate is that in the more afflicted regions, malaria lowered the probability of surviving to adulthood by about ten percentage points, which is roughly twice the current burden of the disease. The reduction in malaria mortality has been roughly equal to the reduction in other causes of mortality. We then ask whether the estimated burden of malaria had an effect on economic development in the period before European contact. Examining both mortality and morbidity, we do not find evidence that the impact of malaria would have been very significant. These model-based findings are corroborated by a more statistically-based approach, which shows little evidence of a negative relationship between malaria ecology and population density or other measures of development, using data measured at the level ethnic groups.
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