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Malaria Research

/Anopheles/ is a genus of mosquito involved in the zoonotic transfer of /Plasmodium/ parasite in human hosts.

History   |   Looking Glass into the Past

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Mosquitoes vs. Military: How the US Army Fought Malaria in World War II

         Although Malaria does not directly impact the US, it was a major challenge during World War 2 in the Pacific region. Prophylaxis approaches using antimalarial drugs like Atabrine, insecticides like the infamous DDT, and education were used to limit the spread of malarial disease in the US soldiers.

         Educating soldiers on how to prevent malarial infection was done through a propaganda campaign aimed at the US soldiers. Posters, comics, radio broadcasts, and medical officers enforced and encouraged the use of Atabrine, DDT, and precautionary measures. Despite these efforts and the campaign, soldiers still contracted malaria. However, compared to infection rates prior to intervention, the efforts minimized the total impact on US soldiers. This historical insight highlights the importance and successful preventative measures used to control and limit malarial infection when education and prophylaxis methods are implemented and enforced.

TLDR; During WW2, malaria was a major challenge for US soldiers in the Pacific. Education and prophylaxis measures like antimalarial drugs and DDT insecticides were used to limit its spread. The campaign, including posters, comics, radio, and medical officers, reduced infection rates. This shows the success of preventative measures when enforced.

Looking Glass from Past to Present: From Colonialism to Vaccines

         With the success of minimizing infections rates in the US army during World War II, the wider connection to colonialism provides context on how malaria is viewed and treated today.

         Malaria’s history is rooted in the colonial era, although documented in early Egyptian records. Imperialist ambitions in Africa were permitted by the development of quinine which provided an effective antimalarial treatment and prophylaxis medication. With the advent of quinine, imperialists would implement colonial control over large regions of Africa. As quinine continued to provide antimalarial activity, the parasite became resistant and additional derivatives of the drug were required to continue providing immunity. Recently in 2022, the RTS,S vaccine was recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO) to provide a contemporary preventative measure. The implementation of the RTS,S vaccine is rooted in conical medicine in Africa’s tropical territories.

         In an effort to successfully control or eradicate malarial, it’s often suggested that a holistic approach that consider’s the broader social and historical factors may help to influence the end of malarial spread. The WHO’s Global Malaria Eradication Program leaned on DDT spraying to reduce mosquito populations which led to increased mosquito resistance and increased transmission of malaria. Additionally, silver-bullets solutions like a malaria vaccine may not prove efficient due to the parasite’s antigenic variation (ability to switch molecular signature) and genetic shift (rapid shifts in genetic signature). Tackling malaria is rooted in a broader social and economic standpoint, by confronting poverty and accessibility healthcare. The past has provided an extensive looking glass into the future of malaria.

TLDR; Malaria has a colonial history rooted in the development of quinine. The RTS,S vaccine is a contemporary preventative measure, but a holistic approach that addresses social and historical factors is needed to control or eradicate malaria. Silver-bullet solutions may not be effective, and tackling malaria requires confronting poverty and improving healthcare accessibility.

 Faculty contributor(s)

  • Dr. Rhodes, a fantastic historian with a background in academic research who helped me understand the historical context and role of imperialist colonization in Africa.
  • Dr. Alava, a physician who gave context for living with mosquitoes and malaria.

Curated Information by Dr. Rhodes for the Historical and Medical Humanities Students