In an 1880s illustration, native people in Peru explain to Europeans that quinine is what their sick companions need. (Alamy)

In an 1880s illustration, native people in Peru explain to Europeans that quinine is what their sick companions need. (Alamy)

A malaria medicine called quinine is made from the bark of the cinchona tree.

A malaria medicine called quinine is made from the bark of the cinchona tree.

“Ring forms” of the malaria parasite are seen inside red blood cells.

“Ring forms” of the malaria parasite are seen inside red blood cells.

Ronald Ross (left) in Calcutta, India, using caged birds to study the spread of the malaria parasite. (LOC)

Ronald Ross (left) in Calcutta, India, using caged birds to study the spread of the malaria parasite. (LOC)

A plane sprays DDT to control mosquitoes in the 1940s. (LOC)

A plane sprays DDT to control mosquitoes in the 1940s. (LOC)

Malaria Milestones

Posted: September 4, 2018

People have been trying get rid of malaria for hundreds of years. Sometimes that has meant BIG steps forward. Other times, it has meant beating the disease little by little.

Early discoveries. Malaria is an old sickness. The ancient Greek doctor Hippocrates wrote down its symptoms, and early Indian writers noticed the disease came from insects. In the 17th century, Jesuit priests traveled to the Americas. They learned from native people about something they called “the fever tree.” Bingo! Medicine made from the cinchona tree’s bark is called quinine. Quinine has long been used in the fight against malaria. There are other drugs today as well.

Four Nobels. Mr. Gitta isn’t the first person to earn an award for a malaria breakthrough. Four others won Nobel Prizes for their own discoveries. In 1880, French surgeon Charles Louis Alphonse Laveran studied a person with malaria. He first noticed the creepy crawlies in the bloodstream: parasites!

Some people with malaria get fevers every other day. Others get fevers every three days. In the late 1800s, Italian Camillo Golgi found out why. Two separate species of malaria parasite can live in the blood. One kind releases spores every other day. The other releases them every three days. The fevers happen whenever the spores release.

In 1897, British officer Ronald Ross made a discovery—and it wasn’t good news. He saw that malaria could pass from infected people to insects. (And those insects pass the disease to other people.)

German Paul Hermann Müller first learned that a chemical called DDT killed mosquitos when applied where the insects lived. That knowledge slowed the spread of disease way down! But the DDT story doesn’t have a happy ending. Scientists later found that DDT builds up in the bodies of people exposed to it. At high concentrations, it makes people and animals very sick.

When Jesus lived on Earth, He healed people. He rebuked sickness. (See Luke 4:39.) It was like He was saying, “You don’t belong here, sickness and death! Get out!” People are stewards of God’s world. Fighting disease is part of their job. Of course, not everyone who helps in the fight against malaria finds “the big cure.” Some—like Mr. Gitta—make the disease easier to diagnose. Some make treatment more affordable to poor people. And each move forward, big and small, is a blessing from God.

“(God) forgives all your iniquity, (God) heals all your diseases.” ― Psalm 103:3