The making of modern malariology: from miasma to mosquito-malaria theory


The history of medicine teaches us that understanding the principle and natural origin of diseases is key to their effective management. Ancient Greek and Roman physicians abandoned supernatural interventions, as previously believed to be the sources of diseases, and instead expounded a theory of natural cause called miasma. Malaria (the very word meaning ‘bad air’) is the archetype, and is the most vicious of them all, then and thereafter, in the entire history of humankind. The search for its origin and transmission was as old as the miasma theory itself. Some rays of light dawned during the Italian the Renaissance from Girolamo Fracastoro in the form of contagion theory, but its true nature was as enigmatic as ever. The Pandora’s box of dilemmas was closed only on the closing of the 19th century CE. Yielding no medical enlightenment after a good two millennia, the miasma theory was confronted by the fledgling germ theory, and finally subjugated by the mosquito-malaria theory. The epoch-making discoveries came from two army physicians, Alphonse Laveran in Africa, who discovered the malarial parasite, and Ronald Ross in India, who discovered the mode of transmission. The saga is classic in the annals of science where theories are tested and falsified, and the one with the most credible and durable evidence survives, in spite of the odds and authoritative hostilities.

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