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Frank Gray

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Malaria fight barreled over


For years now I’ve been getting daily emails from a former Fort Wayne resident named Andy Graham.

Graham was born on a farm near Orland and was a computer geek-real estate agent in Fort Wayne for a while. It was about 15 years ago that he took what money he had and took a vacation to Mexico, planning to stay until his money ran out.

Well, Graham figured out how to make money blogging and fundamentally never bothered to come back home. Oh, he’ll visit his parents for a couple of days every year or two, but since the 1990s he’s been wandering around the world, avoiding the tourist spots and living with the locals on a few dollars a day. In all, he says, he’s visited 90 countries.

Graham has had his close calls. He got robbed and beat up in the Dominican Republic, narrowly missed the devastating earthquake in Haiti four years ago and got caught up in the middle of what amounted to a war between political factions in the Ivory Coast.

People who travel the world or read about the world sometimes latch on to causes to champion. Some buy socks for others, some drill wells or hand out eyeglasses.

Graham chose his cause for personal reasons.

A few years ago, while in Africa, Graham came down with malaria. It laid him low for a couple of weeks.

Since then, malaria has been one of Graham’s favorite topics. For the past few days he’s been on a tear about malaria, lamenting that billions of dollars a year are spent trying to fight the disease but little has been accomplished.

Graham will let you know that all kinds of people have had malaria, including several presidents and other famous people. He’ll also tell you that coming down with malaria is a rite of passage for international travelers, but that you’re a lot more likely to die in a car crash or be killed by your girlfriend than to die from the disease. There are about 13 ways to treat the disease, Graham says, and by American standards the price is cheap.

But in places like Togo, where money is short, locals can’t afford treatment.

What really seems to drive Graham crazy, though, is that little is done in the way of prevention.

Graham comes up with ideas for improving the world from time to time. When I first met him, he was pushing the idea that in parts of the world people had poor diets because they refused to eat certain foods, such as vegetables.

Eventually, Graham abandoned that campaign. His latest push is to find ways to reduce malaria.

In his latest posts he noted that streams in Togo, where he was at the time, were clogged by old plastic trash bags. The streams couldn’t flow, he said, which created a breeding ground for the mosquitoes that spread the disease.

So Graham came up with an idea to get people to stop throwing these plastic bags on the ground, where they eventually clogged streams. He bought some small burn barrels and distributed them to people in the village, urging them to burn their trash.

It sounds like a worthwhile first step, but Graham described the results of his experiment as a comical failure. Some people immediately put the burn barrels into storage so they would not be stolen, he said, and the last he saw of one barrel, a kid was rolling it down the street like a toy.

I guess changing the world is harder than it seems.

Frank Gray reflects on his and others’ experiences in columns published Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday. He can be reached by phone at 461-8376, by fax at 461-8893, or by email at You can also follow him on Twitter @FrankGrayJG.