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Beginning in 1915, the International Health Division (IHD), a part of the Rockefeller Foundation (RF), focused a significant portion of its money and energy on an attempt to eradicate malaria. A potentially fatal parasitical disease transmitted by mosquitoes, malaria affected large areas of the world in the early 20th century. In fact, the very factors that made malaria so imposing, widespread areas of infection and high fatality rates, made it a compelling target for RF’s new international public health efforts.

Health exhibit held at Jerusalem Anti-Malaria section

Anti-Malaria Health Exhibit, Jerusalem 1925

In 1917 the RF began experiments in Mississippi and Arkansas aimed at evaluating the best means to combat malaria.  Scientists researched four methods to control the disease:

  1. Using quinine to sterilize the blood of persons already infected with malaria
  2. Giving preventative quinine to persons who had not contracted the disease
  3. Installing screens in the windows of buildings in affected areas
  4. Eliminating or controlling mosquito breeding grounds through drainage techniques[1]
Malaria in Bengal and Calcutta, breeding places, cisterns, ravines, drains, 1935

Malaria in Bengal and Calcutta, breeding places, cisterns,
ravines, drains, 1935

This research led the RF to expand its efforts to a total of ten southern states, and by 1928 the RF contributed to malaria projects in twenty foreign countries.  RF involvement included the contribution of funds and personnel, anti-malaria demonstrations, surveys to map the disease, personnel training, field studies and research. 

Lamia valley malaria field studies, Ypati laboratory, Greece 1937

Lamia valley malaria field studies, Ypati laboratory, Greece 1937

The RF achieved notable success in the fight against malaria. In 1940 the anopheles gambiae, a species of malaria-carrying mosquito that had traveled from Africa, was eradicated from a controlled area in Brazil through intensive efforts led by RF staff member Fred Soper. This goal was reached with an investment of $430,000 over three years and with the use of Paris green, a larvicide discovered in the 1920s that allowed for targeted fumigation of the anopheles breed.  Specific mosquito breeds were eradicated in a major Egyptian campaign in 1946 and during the Sardinian Campaign from 1946-1951. 

The RF remains committed to fighting malaria. In 1998 the RF launched initiatives to develop private-public partnerships aimed at targeting diseases of poverty, including malaria in Africa. Today the RF remains a key donor to the Medicines for Malaria Venture that was launched in 1999 in partnership with the governments of Switzerland and the Netherlands, The World Bank and the UK Department for International Development.

[1] The Rockefeller Foundation, Annual Report 1917 (New York: The Rockefeller Foundation, 1917) 184-192. (Link to PDF on Rockefeller Foundation Website)