Malaria control: achievements, problems and strategies

Parassitologia. 2001 Jun;43(1-2):1-89.


Even if history has not always been the Magistra vitae, Cicero expected it to be, it should provide, as Baas said, a mirror in which to observe and compare the past and present in order to draw therefrom well-grounded conclusions for the future. Based on this belief, this paper aims to provide an overview of the foundations and development of malaria control policies during the XX century. It presents an analysis of the conflicting tendencies which shaped the development of these policies and which appear to have oscillated between calls for frontal attack in an all-out campaign and calls for sustainable gains, even if slow. It discusses the various approaches to the control of malaria, their achievements and their limitations, not only to serve as a background to understand better the foundations of current policies, but also to prevent that simplistic generalisations may again lead to exaggerated expectations and disillusion. The first part of the paper is devoted to the development of malaria control during the first half of the century, characterised by the ups and downs in the reliance on mosquito control as the control measure applicable everywhere. The proliferation of "man-made-malaria", which accompanied the push for economic development in most of the endemic countries, spurred the need for control interventions and, while great successes were obtained in many specific projects, the general campaigns proposed by the enthusiasts of vector control faced increasing difficulties in their practical implementation in the field. Important events, which may be considered representative of this period are, on the campaign approach, the success of Gorgas in the Panama Canal, but also the failure of the Mian Mir project in India; while on the developmental approach, the Italian and Dutch schools of malariology, the Tennessee Valley and the development of malaria sanitation, included the so called species sanitation. The projection of these developments to a global scale was steered by the Malaria Commission of the League of Nations and greatly supported by the Rockefeller Foundation. Perhaps the most important contribution of this period was the development of malaria epidemiology, including the study of the genesis of epidemics and their possible forecasting and prevention. Although the great effectiveness of DDT was perhaps the main determinant for proposing the global eradication of the disease in the 1950s, it was the confidence in the epidemiological knowledge and the prestige of malariology, which gave credibility to the proposal at the political level. The second part deals with the global malaria eradication campaign of the 1950s and 1960s. It recognises the enormous impact of the eradication effort in the consolidation of the control successes of the first half of the century, as well as its influence in the development of planning of health programmes. Nevertheless, it also stresses the negative influence that the failure to achieve its utopian expectations had on the general disappointment and slow progress of malaria control, which characterised the last third of the century. The paper then analyses the evolution of malaria control funding, which often appears out of tune with political statements. The fourth part is devoted to the search for realistic approaches to malaria control, leading to the adoption of the global malaria control strategy in Amsterdam in 1992, and the challenge, at the end of the century, to rally forces commensurate with the magnitude of the problem, while aiming at realistic objectives. After discussing the conflicting views on the relations between malaria and socio-economic development and the desirable integration of malaria control into sustainable development, the paper ends with some considerations on the perspectives of malaria control, as seen by the author in early 1998, just before the launching of the current Roll Back Malaria initiative by WHO.

Publication types

  • Historical Article
  • Portrait
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Anopheles / parasitology
  • Arthropod Vectors / parasitology
  • Culex / parasitology
  • Developing Countries
  • Disease Outbreaks
  • Forecasting
  • Global Health
  • History, 18th Century
  • History, 19th Century
  • History, 20th Century
  • History, Ancient
  • History, Medieval
  • Housing
  • Humans
  • Insecticides
  • International Cooperation
  • Malaria / economics
  • Malaria / epidemiology
  • Malaria / history
  • Malaria / prevention & control*
  • Mosquito Control / history
  • Mosquito Control / methods
  • Mosquito Control / trends
  • National Health Programs
  • Parasitology / history
  • Plasmodium / drug effects
  • Plasmodium / isolation & purification
  • Program Evaluation
  • Sanitary Engineering
  • World Health Organization


  • Insecticides