The History of Malaria


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Throughout history, malaria has always been present and we can tell this by looking at old writings that document symptoms, which sound very much like the disease. It is believed that malaria has been around for about 4000 years at least because that is the earliest documentation that we have.

The name malaria actually means bad air. There are a number of symptoms that coincide with today’s symptoms in ancient Chinese medical writings. In the 17th century, a medicine was documented to treat the disease and it was a type of medicinal bark. They used it to treat the fevers and it has been found that it was quinine, which is an anti-malarial nowadays.

The parasites were first discovered in 1880. A French army surgeon called Laveran was stationed in Algeria and he noticed that there were parasites in the blood of infected patients that didn’t exist in healthy individuals. He won a Nobel Prize in 1907 for his discovery.

From this point on, more discoveries occurred in quick succession. In 1886, Golgi said that there were at least two different forms of this disease. He was an Italian neurophysiologist who looked at the fever patterns and noticed that there was a difference between patients. There was also a difference in the levels of parasites present in the blood between patients. He was also awarded a Nobel Prize in 1906.

Between 1890 and 1897, the parasites were given names and Ronald Ross, who was a British officer in the Indian medical service, discovered the way in which they were transmitted. He was able to prove in 1897, that mosquitoes transmitted the disease to hosts. He was also able to shown, through further experimentation, that the mosquitoes could also contract malaria from an infected host and transmit it to another host.

These discoveries allowed for control of malaria, which became very important in the world wars. Also, the Panama Canal could actually be built because there was enough control of malaria to develop the system. Chloroquine was discovered in 1934 and since then various other anti-malarials have been discovered. Between 1947- 1951, malaria was successfully eliminated from the USA and this has occurred in a number of other countries as well. There was a global malaria eradication campaign set up by the world health organisation in 1955 and it was successful at eliminating the disease from a number of countries but it was abandoned, as it did not reach the final goal of eradicating malaria, as there are a number of countries where the disease is still present today.


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