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Malaria & The Mosquito

“Partisans still argue over who first reached certain milestones in the investigation of malaria.  But there is no doubt that a French Army doctor named Charles Laveran was the first to see malaria parasites in the blood of an infected person.   He made the discovery while working as a doctor for the French Foreign Legion outpost in Constantine, Algeria.   It was out of colonial concern, not scientific curiosity that the French government sent Laveran to Algeria in 1876. Military officials were desperate to stop the epidemics that plagued their outposts. The sick and the dead among the Foreign Legion had to be replaced, and the cost in both cash and morale was astronomical."

"There were few better places to study malaria.  The disease was endemic in Constantine, and the soldiers in the legion were wholly susceptible.  Laveran wrote that upon his arrival he immediately “had the opportunity of making autopsies on subjects who had died from pernicious attacks”.

On November 6, 1880 the thirty-five year old Laveran drew blood from a soldier who was wracked by fever.  He placed a drop under his microscope and saw that it was alive with little moving animals. Laveran was sure that this protozoan, not a bacillus previously found in the soil by an Italian-based group, was the cause of malaria.

Laveran’s work eventually was confirmed in major laboratories, and he alone was credited with the discovery that earned him a Nobel Peace Prize (1907).”

From the book ‘Mosquito’ by Andrew Spielman and Michael D’Antonio

In Burkina Faso (formerly Upper Volta) alone, one child dies from malaria on average every 34 minutes.  Elsewhere around the world, some 300 million people are affected by malaria each year.  Of these, up to 2 million people die from it. 

Symptoms of the disease were noted in Sanskrit texts two thousand years ago, and ‘malaria’ was later named when it was believed to be caused by bad air. 

Today malaria is mostly confined to Africa, Asia and Latin America.  Poor living conditions and inadequate health services aggravate the problems yet there is now much concern about malaria’s increasing resistance to conventional medicines, and the unknown factors facing us with climate change.  If global temperatures continue to rise, allowing the mosquito to extend into geographic areas not yet affected, malaria will soon have the potential to kill an additional 1 million people each year.

Travel has always played a significant part in the spread of communicable diseases.  With global travel, a person can be bitten by a mosquito on holiday in the Bahamas (they’re on holiday, not the mosquito!).  Twenty-four hours later the holiday is over and a jet plane has returned the holidaymaker home to another part of the globe.   Within a short time, another mosquito could bite, taking with it the children of the plasmodium our holidaymaker became host to in Honduras, creating a new cycle. Global travel is simply an evolution of the religious pilgrimages, trade caravans and military campaigns that facilitated the spread of such disease from more confined origins.  With global travel, new infections and new strains will continue to emerge with varying severity and frequency.

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"Mosquitoes stopped their mighty armies, crippled their administration and killed millions. Soldiers would die, movement of troops became impossible. Labourers would die," says Nand Lal Kalra, Head of the Mosquito Museum in New Delhi.

"It was an endemic cycle of poverty, famine and epidemic. Growth stopped. Development came to a halt as labourers died in thousands and region after region became virtual black holes - uninhabited and barren. Whether it was laying a railway line or building a factory, malaria destroyed everything. In 1920, the British abandoned a massive river canal project for six years when malaria killed hundreds of labourers.”




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