Fred Soper, Malcolm Gladwell, mosquitoes, malaria, and DDT

Millions of people owe their lives to Fred Soper. Why isn’t he a hero?

Asks Malcolm Gladwell in his essay The Mosquito Killer. The article is an excellent look at the role played by an American physician in initiating the global malaria eradication efforts of the 50s and 60s.  Gladwell has a very accessible writing style, but sometimes his narrative seems too straightforward… His writing is generally suggestive of a purposeful, yet perhaps artificial, reduction of complexity. In this case the contributions of political climate, national priority, agricultural economics, Soviet and other scientists, and especially George MacDonald’s transmission models are made to pale in comparison to the force of a single, admittedly tenacious, personality.

I had heard of Soper from his role in leading the eradication of the deadly Anopheles gambiae from Brazil (through zealous anti-larval operations across 18,000 sq miles) in the 1930s. It appears, among other achievements, Soper also started PAHO – the Pan American Health Organization which is now the regional arm of WHO. Inspired to learn more, I’ve picked up Soper’s memoirs, Ventures in World Health, from our library and it’s proving to be a fun read.

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2 Responses to “Fred Soper, Malcolm Gladwell, mosquitoes, malaria, and DDT”


  1. 1 Ed Darrell February 13, 2010 at 10:24 am

    Gee, I had missed that Soper wrote a book.

    Does he say much about why they stopped the malaria eradication campaign? Any news there that Gladwell didn’t already cover?

    • 2 naman February 13, 2010 at 1:07 pm

      Ed – thanks. No in fact he barely talks about malaria at all. But there are many fun stories and in-depth explanations about Rockefeller foundation, the genesis of country agreements, hookworm control, yellow fever, and the Aedes aegypti eradication effort.


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