History of Malaria
by Raymond Chow
The 17th century
Italians suspected that the disease characterized by periodic
chills and fever and enlargement of the spleen was caused
by the vapors of the swamps near Rome. They named this disease
malaria, which meant “bad air” in Latin. Even
before it was called malaria, the symptoms of this disease
were described in the writings of the ancient Greek, Chinese,
and Hindu cultures. Malaria is a disease that has affected
the outcomes of wars, infecting soldiers of both ancient battles
and modern conflicts.
The World Health Organization
(WHO) began a worldwide campaign to eradicate malaria in the
1950’s and 1960’s. The discovery of the insecticide
dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane (DDT) contributed to a drastic
reduction of the adult mosquito population. Draining of marshes
and fields helped reduce potential mosquito breeding grounds.
This, in combination with chloroquinine drug treatment of
malaria patients and contacts, succeeded in eliminating malaria
from Europe, USA, and Australia. Malaria was largely reduced
in Asia, and still a large problem in Latin American and Africa.
In the parts of the world where malaria could not be eradicated,
malaria control and containment became the strategy.
Unfortunately, malaria has been on the rise since the 1970’s.
Mosquitoes have been developing resistance to DDT. Plasmodium,
the parasite responsible for causing malaria, began to develop
resistance against chloroquine. Armed conflicts changed the
conditions in countries to promote malaria transmission. Creation
of dams and reservoirs provided potential mosquito breeding
grounds. The success of commercial air travel meant that more
travelers could be exposed to malaria when visiting endemic
areas. All these factors contribute to the growing opinion
that malaria is a disease that requires the world’s
attention once again.