I have my students read Jeff Sachs's book, The End of Poverty, one of the things I like about the book is how Sachs shows that many aspects of development are related (schooling, water access, health, women's rights) without one it is hard to have another. Sachs is also a firm believer in geograpghy determining development. In the book he points to a map similar to the one I have here. You'll note lots of the poorest countries in the world also have malaria.
It might be causal, but I think there is a good case to be made that preventing malaria is a part of economic development.
For development workers Chris Blattman has a good overview for you on what do if you find yourself coming down with malaria.