After his shock therapy policy went awry in Russia, Jeff Sachs' new credo is to solve World poverty, and specifically African poverty, by eliminating malaria. While it is clear that it is a very serious disease, one may ask why so much relies on this one disease.
Jeff Sachs offers the answer himself in several papers, the most prominent ultimately published in The American Journal of Tropical Medicine & Hygiene (pdf) (one can wonder whether this paper would have passed peer review in an Economics journal): in terms of growth or GDP, his cross-country regressions show a very substantial cost, in the order of 1.3% growth points or 40% of the GDP level. His latest work corroborates what he has saying alongside Bono and Angelina Jolie on MTV for a long time: controlling malaria is cheap, about US$4 a person at risk.
The typical prevention that is advocated is the bed net that is treated with a substance that disrupts the cycle of the disease. Bed nets are relatively cheap and effective, as long as you stay under them. Jeff Sachs' goal is to get everyone under a bed net, and he has drummed up public support for bed net distribution campaigns in several countries. This initiative has recently come under fire, as discussed in this Science article: these distributions of free imported bed nets kill nascent local bed net industries, and once the campaigns are over, no one is there to take over. This also highlights the long standing issue of aid and dependence.
A second issue is that Sachs presumes that malaria is exogenous to the level of development. What if it is endogenous to poverty? Then, one should deal with poverty first to get rid of malaria, and not deal with malaria to get rid of poverty. The truth is probably that they are both endogenous to each other. Encouraging a local market for bed nets to thrive, instead of carpet bombing it with bed nets, is probably the better way to go.