The fight against malaria – nearing the end of a long journey
World Mosquito Day was established on 20 August to mark the day when Sir Ronald Ross discovered the link between the female Anopheles mosquito and the transmission of malaria. It has now been 120 years since his discovery and then the battle against malaria-carrying mosquitoes has continued to intensify. In this blog, our subsidiary TANA Netting takes a look back at these early days of discovery, and at how the fight against malaria continues apace today.
Photograph taken in Milalani village in Msambweni on the south Kenyan coast, for TANA Netting’s DawaPlus® 2.0 Long-Lasting Insecticidal Net.
Malaria in the mists of time
Malaria has caused countless millions of deaths throughout history, but for almost all of that time the actual cause of the disease, the Anopheles mosquito, was overlooked. The oldest known medical book, the Nei Ching published in China in 2700 BC, was the first to describe some of the symptoms of malaria.
The ancient Greeks were also aware of the disease, particularly as it was decimating their urban populations, but they attributed it to proximity to stagnant water instead of the mosquitoes themselves. The Greek physician Hippocrates found that people living by rivers were healthy, but those living by marshes were plagued by sickness and exhibited ‘protruding bellies and enlarged spleens’.
The Romans thought along similar lines, and made efforts to drain the marshes surrounding Rome, as they believed the smell emanating from them to cause sickness. In the eighteenth century, it was this assumption that bad smells caused diseases that gave rise to Italians giving the disease the name ‘malaria’, with ‘mala’ meaning bad and ‘aria’ air.
Nineteenth century breakthroughs
Fast forward into the nineteenth century, and our understanding of malaria came along in leaps and bounds. The French surgeon Charles Laveran was the first to discover parasites in the blood of a malaria sufferer, and English doctor Sir Patrick Manson showed that a parasite that causes human disease could infect a mosquito. Empire building and colonisation during this period saw European military forces and scientists expand through malarious areas, and, accordingly, research into the disease ramped up further.
It was against this backdrop that Sir Ronald Ross made his seminal contribution. Born in India during British rule, Ross quickly became interested in malaria upon joining the Indian Medical Service. He set out to prove the theories that malaria was caused by parasites in the blood, and that mosquitoes were involved. It was on 20 August 1897 when Ross made his breakthrough discovery. He found malaria parasites in the stomach of an Anopheles mosquito that had been fed blood from a malarious patient a few days before. In subsequent years he consolidated his research by using birds, showing how malaria parasites can develop inside the mosquito and migrate to its salivary glands ready to infect others.
Significant progress has been made against malaria since these early discoveries. However, it is still one of the worst public health challenges facing the world. In 2015 alone there were 212 million cases of malaria reported around the world, with a child dying from the disease every two minutes. Accordingly, the eradication of malaria was prioritised as one of the main public health priorities identified by the UN Sustainable Development Goals, and progress towards achieving this ambitious target continues to accelerate.
The unique contribution of LLINs
The particular importance of long-lasting insecticidal nets (LLINs) in battling malaria was emphasised in the 2016 World Malaria Report. The then Director General of the World Health Organization, Dr. Margaret Chan, stated: “LLINs are the mainstay of malaria prevention. WHO recommends their use for all people at risk of malaria.”
In a blog published this week to mark World Mosquito Day, Bill Gates also highlighted the role of LLINs in the ‘malaria war’, alongside other strategies such as drug resistance, disease mapping, genome editing and many more. In recognition of this vital role of LLINs, Bill Gates has teamed up with the National Malaria Control Program of Mozambique and World Vision to distribute up to 100,000 LLINs in Mozambique. For each person that reads his blog and takes a one-question quiz, one net will be donated. We urge you to take a look, and for just a couple minutes of your time, someone in the Inhambane province can sleep more safely. Read the blog and answer the quiz here
TANA Netting contributes to the fight
TANA Netting is committed to improve the lives of people threatened by malaria and other vector-borne diseases. It realises the importance of cost-effective and high quality preventive products so the ongoing fight against malaria can continue unabated. TANA Netting’s key product, the DawaPlus® 2.0 Long-Lasting Insecticidal Net, is in the vanguard of these efforts, and is recommended by the World Health Organization Pesticide Evaluation Scheme (WHOPES) as a tool for malaria control and prevention.
Finishing the job
In light of these concerted efforts, with the public sector, private sector and academia working in tandem, the end of the journey to eradicate malaria is now in sight. As Bill Gates concludes his blog: “I think we will see an end to malaria in my lifetime. It’s a preventable and curable disease. While we’re still decades away from wiping malaria off the map for good, one thing is clear: the mosquito has met its match.”