Archive for the 'History' Category

Some great Ronald Ross quotes

Thank you Google Books (also mentioned here). Sir Ronald Ross is quite the entertaining writer – in fact most works of that era are more fun given their first person, narrative styles. A few gems:

On gametocytes:

Now it is to these gametocytes that an extreme interest attaches, because it is to them, and to Manson’s study of them, that we owe the solution of the malaria problem.

– Ronald Ross, 1900 Malaria and mosquitoes Nature. Vol 61(1587) p:524

On the measurement of malaria

Note to begin with that we can never obtain any such estimates exactly; and also that the degree of approximation towards the truth must always depend on the amount of time and energy we have to spare for the task…

– Ronald Ross. 1910. The Prevention of Malaria


Science meets service: Gandhi looking at malaria parasites

(image credit:

What a stirring image! It’s one of my favorite photographs and depicts the potential of science to serve. The Mahatma Gandhi Institute of Medical Sciences a medical university in Maharashtra, India devoted to rural health aptly adopted the image in its logo. The image was taken in 1940 in front of the Sevagram ashram’s guest house, which Bapu later coverted into a 15 bed hospital, and is now part of the institute.

While many captions indicate Gandhiji was observing Mycobacterium leprae, the university suggests the slide contained Plasmodia:

There have been many conjectures about what Gandhiji was looking at in the microscope. Since his intrest in leprosy was well known, it was assumed that he was looking at Mycobacterium leprae. However, Dr KV Desikan, a leprologist of international standing, differs. He says that Shri Prabhakarji, a close associate of Mahatma Gandhi and Dr Sushila Nayar, had told him that Gandhiji was looking at malarial parasites. Prabhakarji has also told him that Gandhiji himself had malaria and had been treated by Dr BC Roy. What he did not know, however, was whether, in the picture, Gandhiji was examining a smear of his own blood. Dr Desikan feels that since Prabhakarji had lived and worked with the doctors during the very inception of the institute, his words would be authentic.


Malaria stamps and more

Check out these blasts from the past. Larry Fillion  has assembled an incredible collection of stamps on all things malaria. Nearly 150 ‘countries’ are represented – though some are colonies, others no longer exist, and many have changed names… Most seem to date from 1950s-70s when they were issued in support of the global malaria eradication effort. The artwork represents the spirit of those heady times: tumultuous change, aspirations of newly free societies, and confidence in the relentless advance of science and technology.

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Images from

My favorite malaria history book

Mosquitoes, Malaria, and Man by Gordon Harrison, 1978.

Lucid writing, historical depth, and the framing of critical debates in malaria control make this book my favorite recounting of the last 130 years in the malaria world. Actually, this “history of the hostilities since 1880” no longer covers the immediate events of the past 30 years but that does not matter. The beginning of the book, on the efforts and personality of Ronald Ross, dragged on a bit too long.  However, Harrison is easily forgiven after reading his description of the arguments cast by opposing schools of thought in Italy. On one side was Angelo Celli and the social reformers who advocated land reforms and higher wages to reduce transmission and quinine to control mortality. At the other end was Missiroli and the Rockefeller foundation led by Hackett who wished for nothing short of total war on the mosquito using the larvicide paris green and other new vector control tools. The fundamental question, “Can we control disease without addressing poverty?”, is one that remains controversial today and is not asked often enough.

Guest post: Parasites in (ancient) humans – King Tut felled by malaria

The Malaria Blog welcomes guest posts – just send me an email.

From James |

A new study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association suggests that the famous pharaoh Tutankhamun was killed by malaria. According to their analysis, Tutankhamun was weakened by malaria and Köhler disease II. Tutankhamun ruled Egypt in 1334-1325 BC and he died at the early age of 19. His famous tomb, full of treasures, was found in 1922. Tutankhamun’s remains were studied from 2007-09 as part of the King Tutankhamun Family Project. In this study Tutankhamun was examined along with ten other royal mummies from 1410-1324 BC and five royal mummies from 1550-1479 BC.

The goal of the project was to introduce a new approach to medical and molecular Egyptology in order to determine familial relationships of eleven royal mummies and discover pathological features attributable to possible murder, inherited disorders, consanguinity, and infectious diseases. Radiological, anthropological, and genetic studies enabled the unraveling of the mystery behind Tutankhamon’s early death and his relationship with other royal mummies found in the same area. They found that Tutankhamun’s parents were siblings which is thought to have been common practice in the pharaoh family. This poor gene pool led Tutankhamun to have malformations, and he likely had severe impairments from birth.

Köhler disease II severely weakened Tutankhamun. Bone necrosis of the foot caused by Köhler forced him to use a walking stick. He had 130 of these canes in his tomb all showing signs of use and there was a fracture in his leg which was propably caused by a fall. Drawings of him sitting in various running activities such as hunting and of medicine for him to take to the afterlife further reference his medical condition. The scientists found a widening of the metatarsal-phalangeal joint space as well as secondary changes to the second and third metatarsal heads. This suggests that the Köhler disease II was still advancing when Tutankhamun died.

The investigators examined the mummies for various diseases such as tuberculosis, pandemic plague, leprosy and leishmaniasis but none were found. They did however identify DNA of Plasmodium falciparum using PCR primers that amplified small subtelomeric variable open reading frame (STEVOR), merozoite surface protein 1 (MSP1), and the apical membrane antigen 1 (AMA1) gene. The evidence of P. falciparum that was present in four of the royal mummies is the oldest proof of malaria parasites in humans. This study is also a rare piece of evidence that malaria was present in ancient Egypt. Ancient texts do mention people used mosquito nets over their beds. It is not clear however how immune Tutankhamun and other people at that time were against malaria but it’s interesting that a modern scourge might have contributed to the death of the greatest pharaoh of all time.

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.

Calcutta School of Tropical Medicine Part 2

As a follow-up to the previous post on the Calcutta School of Tropical Medicine is a remarkable piece of history on its origins written by Helen Power. The subtitle “institutionalizing medical research in the periphery” summarizes the article and the insights one can expect from reviewing such a process. How are institutions forged? Who decides and why? A recurring theme (in the stories of institutions) I find amusing is the extent to which matters of whim and expediency, as opposed to deliberate intent, influenced history. Amidst our everyday work it is a rare oppurtunity to step back and reflect upon the broader forces (foreign strategy, national politics, financial competition) or petty conflicts (disciplinary divides, ego clashes) which shaped our present, regardless of where we may be.