There's no doubt that the disease is surging again, both in this country and abroad, and scientists such as Martin fear they may not be able to keep up, thus sentencing millions to an illness once thought to be on the verge of eradication.

The prospects of turning back P. falciparum in the near future seem dim. The World Health Organization now estimates that malaria kills as many as 2.7 million people worldwide each year and that it sickens as many as half a billion, with outbreaks reported in California, Texas, Florida, Michigan, New Jersey, and New York City.

Does Martin feel discouraged about what seems to be a losing battle? "Actually, I am very hopeful," says Martin, "because I know that we are working very hard, here at Walter Reed. Right down the hall, they are working frantically, right now, on some experiments that may show how proteins in the mosquito actually 'signal' the parasite to attack the red blood cells.

"Also, it's important to remember that the reality of this disease is so vast, so huge, that we can never predict what is coming next. Who knows whether we will make a discovery next week, or next year, that will have a major impact?"

For Martin, working daily on the "bug" that is malaria raises some profound philosophical questions for him. "Our planet is already over- populated, and I often wind up asking myself: is my objective really to help as many people as I can to stay alive on this planet?

"I don't know the answer to that. And I don't know what role the 'bug' plays, over time, in its relationship to the human species. Can we say for sure that it must be completely eradicated?

"That malaria parasite--is he my enemy? Is he the enemy of the people? Does he deserve to be here? I don't know. I don't know. I just find what he does extremely fascinating. And I feel extremely privileged to be engaged in this kind of research. I try to make my own small contribution, while recognizing that the overall picture is so vast that I'm incapable of comprehending it."

When asked, this gentle-voiced father of three will tell you that what he liked best about Reed's liberal arts education was "the idea of remaining open to questions. The willingness to keep your mind open, while you keep searching for those answers that are possible.

"I had a wonderful two years at Reed," he says. "That was an amazing time to have attended an American school. It was stressful, but so interesting.

"My only regret, really, is that I didn't stay on campus for another year or two . . . . so that instead of working all the time, I could have had more fun."


Tom Nugent, a Baltimore-based freelance writer, is the author of Death At Buffalo Creek, W.W. Norton.

Home Page
Home Page