Malaria (mal’aria Italian for “bad air”) is an ancient disease, which has been noted for more than 4.000 years and has probably influenced to a great extent human populations and human history. Malaria parasites have been with us since the dawn of time. They probably originated in Africa (along with mankind); fossils of mosquitoes (up to 30 million years old) show that the malaria vector, the mosquito, was present well before the earliest history.
The symptoms of malaria were already described in ancient Chinese medical writings. In China, during the second century BCE, the Qinghao plant (Artemisia annua) was described as medical treatment for fever.
Hippocrates, a physician born in ancient Greece, today regarded as the "Father of Medicine", was the first to describe the manifestations of the disease, and related them to the time of year and to where the patients lived. Before this, the supernatural was blamed. The association with stagnant waters (breeding grounds for the Anopheles mosquito) led the Romans to begin building drainage programs, the first intervention against malaria.
The first recorded treatment dates back to 1600, when the bitter bark of the Cinchona tree in Peru was used by the native Peruvian Indians. By 1649, the bark was available in England, as "Jesuits powder," so that those suffering from "agues" might benefit from the chemical substance quinine, which it contained. Charles Louis Alphonse Laveran, a French army surgeon stationed in Constantine, Algeria, was the first to observe parasites in the blood of a patient suffering from malaria (1880). For his discovery, Laveran was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1907. In 1897, Ronald Ross, a British officer in the Indian Medical Service, was the first to reveal that malaria parasites could be transmitted from infected patients to mosquitoes. During his research activities with bird malaria, Ross showed that mosquitoes could transmit malaria parasites from bird to bird. The transmission is necessitated through a sporogonic cycle (the time interval during which the parasite developed in the mosquito). Thus, the problem of malaria transmission was solved. For his discovery, Ross was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1902.Through successful usage of DDT (Dichloro-diphenyl-trichloroethane) for indoor residual spraying and the draining of mosquito breeding sites, the development of more effective synthetic anti-malarial drugs as well as effective malaria control programs, malaria could be eradicated in North America and Europe in the 1940s and 1950s. The insecticide DDT was developed in 1939 by the Swiss Chemical Paul Müller and played an important role in the fight against malaria. Motivated by the development of new malaria control instruments, the WHO submitted an ambitious proposal for the eradication of malaria world wide at the World Health Assembly in 1955. The Global Malaria Eradication Program being implemented from 1955-1970 and covering around 50 states focussed on indoor residual spraying, anti-malarial treatment and establishing a surveillance system. Some countries like India and Sri Lanka could decrease malaria incident rates, however, others such as Indonesia, Nicaragua and Haiti were not successful. Unfortunately, most Sub-Saharan African countries, carrying a very high malaria burden, were completely excluded from the eradication campaign. This neglect combined with unstable political situations, armed conflicts, massive population movements, poverty, resistances of the parasite to drugs and insecticides, weak health systems as well as unsustainable and insufficient funding for malaria control are the main reasons why malaria still hits Africa hardest.