In Mozambique tracking the race to cure malaria, there is respite in the breathtaking beauty of the landscape and people.
Each morning is a race against the heat of the day. In the cool dawn, women gather their tools and head for the shore of the Incomati River. The sun peaks over the horizon as they cross on a silent ferry and hop off to tend their farm plots on the other side of the riverbank.
As the day heats up, schoolboys, undaunted by lurking hippos or crocs, hop into the river to revel in a cool, wet playground.
Taking in the expansive view of this stunning coastal plain, I’m struck by a recurring theme in sub-Saharan Africa: how readily the beautiful and the haunting coexist. This breathtaking landscape is no different. In the muted pastel tapestry of the river valley, the most deadly strain of malaria — plasmodium falciparum — breeds quietly and stealthily in the swampy ground.
I’m not here on vacation; it’s malaria that brought me here, along with a world-renowned research center developing an effective vaccine against it. As the disease claims one in seven children under the age of 5, these scientists are in a race to find the cure. And they’re gaining ground.
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The trail of a global-health story leads me on an unexpected journey: to the consulting room of a witch doctor, who “reads the bones” to diagnose what ails me; into a family compound to take part in a seasonal drinkfest of the fermented caño fruit; to the kitchen where the culinary legacy of Portuguese colonists lives on. I feast on leitão, a roast suckling pig.
No, I’m certainly not on the path to the Mozambique that Bob Dylan crooned about: No dancing girls or beach romance. But I won’t trade it for what I’ve found: hope against a looming menace.