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Forecast: Countries could backslide into poverty

Part 2: The spread of disease

Climate change will emphasize the links between disease and poverty, with the potential of pushing developing countries back into brutal poverty.

PORTO VELHO, Brazil — One evening in Porto Velho, I joined four workers from the state’s malaria control program for an evening drive into the nearby countryside.

We left the asphalt just out of town, gunned up a steep dirt road and stopped at a sheep farm.

A small wooden shack was furnished with bales of hay and a small color television. Two sides of the porch had been turned into sheep pens. On the third, clothes hung from a line. Geese waddled in the mud.

The sun had begun to drop, and my companions fanned out and got to work. Each had a short stool, a flashlight, cups lidded with mosquito netting and a long rubber tube.

I followed their leader, a short, dark-haired man named Ernaldo Cunha Santos. He rolled up his pants, set his stool next to the shack, pulled his black cotton socks to his knees, and waited for the mosquitoes to bite.

Each time one landed he would spot it with his flashlight. With the rubber tube in his mouth, he would suck it up and blow it into a cup. Twenty minutes later, he showed me his catch.

The cup was swarming with mosquitoes. Lean and hungry, they zipped like darts from wall to wall. Santos’s tube swept across his leg, vacuuming up five at a time. He paused and gave me a look of mock forbearance. Then alerted by a sudden itching in his ankle, he turned his attention to his socks.

Even where I stood, mosquitoes were biting my wrists and knuckles. After about 45 minutes, I asked Santos how many he had caught. He gave me a thumbs-down. It had rained in the afternoon, and the mosquitoes weren’t biting as much as usual. He had caught only 120.

We piled back into the truck and drove back to Porto Velho. Together, the four men had been bitten by 390 potentially malarial mosquitoes in under an hour. The collection was a daily ritual.