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World Mosquito Day and The Legacy of Sir Ronald Ross

August 18, 2009

This Thursday marks the anniversary of one of the most important scientific discoveries in the battle against malaria.  On 20th August 1897, the transmission of malaria by mosquitoes was established by Ronald Ross, a British doctor working in India who became LSTM’s first senior lecturer.  He was awarded the Nobel prize for medicine in 1902 for his discovery.

Ross was born in India in 1857 and returned there in 1881 after education and study in England leading to his medical qualification.  He was commissioned into the Madras branch of the Indian Medical Service and as Acting Garrison-Surgeon to Bangalore in1 883, Ross became interested in the breeding habits of mosquitoes.  In 1896, Ross was nearing his breakthrough and wrote: “The belief is growing on me that the disease is communicated by the bite of the mosquito… She always injects a small quantity of fluid with her bite – what if the parasites get into the system in this manner.”

On 20 August 1897, in Secunderabad, India, Ross had his breakthrough, during the dissection of the stomach tissue of an anopheline mosquito fed four days previously on a malarious patient.  He found the malaria parasite, from which he proved the role of Anopheles mosquitoes in the transmission of malaria parasites in humans.

 

Declaring himself that this date be remembered as World Mosquito Day, his work was soon verified by a colleague, Surgeon-Major John Smyth and Ross wrote a paper which was later published in the British Medical Journal.

Ross left the Indian Medical Service in 1899 to become the first senior lecturer, then Professor, at the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine (LSTM), the first institution devoted to tropical medicine anywhere in the world.  His work at LSTM led to many distinguished honors and numerous expeditions to Africa, Asia and South America.

Commenting on his legacy and the continuing fight against the disease, Professor Steve Ward, Deputy Director, LSTM  said: “Malaria is still a devastating disease, with nearly 250 million cases and more than one million deaths every year.  Mosquitoes have developed resistance to existing insecticides and there is evidence of emerging resistance by the parasite to the drugs used to treat the disease. New drugs and insecticides are required to combat malaria in the 21st century and LSTM is continuing the work of Ross by leading a number of global projects to prevent death and suffering due to malaria.  All of this would not have been possible without his work and the other early pioneers who risked their lives to gain greater understanding of what was and still is one of the world’s biggest killers.”

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