By Ginny A. Roth
Every year on April 25th the world commemorates the global effort to control malaria by recognizing World Malaria Day, instituted by World Health Organization (WHO) Member States during the World Health Assembly of 2007. This year’s theme, “Invest in the Future. Defeat Malaria,” supports the organization’s goal for nations to solidify their commitment, financially and politically, to fighting and preventing malaria worldwide.
This poster published in 1944 may look humorous, but it represented a very serious problem for soldiers during World War II—the spreading of malaria. Documented often as being as deadly as fighting the enemy, malaria was prevalent among soldiers where environmental conditions, including high temperatures and heavy rainfall, were ideal for the breeding of mosquitoes that carried the disease. Because of the rising number of malaria-related casualties, many propaganda campaigns were used by the military as part of a mission to warn soldiers about the dangers of malaria and what they could do to prevent contracting it. This particular poster used an illustration of an alluring female mosquito to attract attention, possibly because the infected mosquitoes, Anopheles, that spread the disease were female. The poster reminded soldiers to use mosquito nets at night when mosquitoes were most active.
Since World War II there have been multiple initiatives to control and eradicate malaria because of its devastating effect on populations. The Communicable Disease Center (CDC, now the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) opened in 1946 with a goal to stop the spread of malaria in the United States. Due to the organization’s success with killing mosquitoes, primarily using the chemical DDT, the U.S. was declared free of malaria as a serious public health problem in 1949. In other regions of the world, primarily in Africa where malaria has remained a significant health issue, the CDC along with other organizations including the WHO, have worked to reduce the malaria mortality rate in part by creating global partnerships, such as Roll Back Malaria, that would combine efforts to increase malaria control. According to WHO, efforts to control and eliminate malaria have saved an estimated 3.3 million lives since the year 2000, but 97 countries still have on-going malaria transmission.
The poster featured above, as well as several other posters produced by the U.S. military, can be viewed on the National Library of Medicine’s website “The Public Health Film Goes to War.”