THE BATTLE AGAINST MALARIA IN WWII



A LESSON FROM THE PAST 


This topic is very interesting as we can apply the same considerations to what is happening. Today, the coronavirus is the silent killer among us;  in 1943 the silent killer was the Malaria.

Just like during WWII, each one of us with its own example, understanding and behaviour can make a huge difference to stop the contagious spread of the virus.


An interesting article published in 1946 by Lt. Col. W.S. Thompson, Assistant director of Hygiene, Eight British Army about the Malaria control in Mobile Warfare wrote:


“The malaria control in war can never be perfect without the informed and co-opearation of the individual soldier.  The most elaborated schemes cannot protect him if he will not protect himself. Discipline alone is not enough. What metters is his response where is not under supervision; not the disciplined observance of rules, but action based on knowledge and understanding and a sense of personal responsability”


In the beginning of the Second World War, a disease called malaria proved to be heavily detrimental to the allied forces. Malaria, which produces extremely high fevers and other flu-like symptoms due to a specific infected mosquito bite, was the cause of death for thusands of soldiers at the dawn of World War II. In addition to high fevers, excessive sweating and the chills were also among the common symptoms of malaria, which had the power to put soldiers out of combat for up to a week or more.


Malaria is transmitted when a type of mosquito called Anopheles, more specifically a female Anopheles, is contaminated with a special species of Plasmodium. There were numerous variations of malaria, Plasmodium vivax (or vivax malaria) and Plasmodium falciparum (or falciparum malaria) were the most prevalent.


Toward the end of 1943, scientists had proven that the German drug atabrine could cure falciparum malaria. Atabrine was to replace the original treatment used to fight malaria called quinine. Quinine was derived from the bark of cinchona trees and approximately 90% of its supply came from Java (an island in Indonesia). But when the Japanese took over Java, that supply was swiftly cut off. However, atabrine (and no other drugs) had yet to cure vivax malaria.


The Army developed a very organized approach to the malaria problem and implemented it in an effective manner. The creation of new technical solutions was also strongly emphasized and out of this effort came the development of effective antimalaria drugs to replace quinine, of new insecticides and of more effective systems for delivering these insecticides. Some of the major new tools which came out of this research were DDT and drugs such as Atabrine and chloroquine. The availability of Atabrine and DDT revolutionized malaria control throughout the world. The knowledge and experience gained through the use of these new tools by the US Army and other agencies in World War II provided the basis for a new optimism regarding malaria control which then led to the development of the global malaria eradication strategy in the post-war years.


The Arrival of the Allies to Italy, the Advent of DDT, and the Five-Year Malaria Eradication Program. Dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane (DDT) was first added to U.S. Army supply lists in May 1943, and was used for the first time against a petechial thyphus epidemics in Naples in 1944.


With unwavering tenacity to find another antimalarial drug that was superior to atabrine and could combat vivax malaria, the collaborated research of civilian and military scientists in America continued to intensify. After numerous more trials and studies were conducted among organizations throughout the nation, scientists had a breakthrough with a drug named chloroquine. In early 1945, the drug showed positive results on soldiers in combat. Chloroquine not only cured falciparum malaria as adequately as atabrine did, but it also effectively suppressed vivax malaria!