Malaria in Wars and Victims

Malaria has shaped the course of history for millennia. It has always been part of the ups and downs of nations; of wars and of upheavals. Kings, popes, and military leaders were struck down in their prime by malaria [See below]. Many great warriors succumbed to malaria after returning from the warfront and advance of armies into continents was prevented by malaria. In many conflicts, more troops were killed by malaria than in combat. The activities of the armed forces would create thousands of breeding places for the vector mosquitoes and thus greatly increase the transmission. Even in recent years, night vigils and other activities like cine-viewing, lack of mosquito nets and other protection, failure to take chemoprophylaxis, due mainly to its adverse effects has contributed to the rising cases of malaria in war time.

In 1910, Col. C. H. Melville, Professor of hygiene, Royal Army Medical College, London, wrote a chapter on malaria prevention in war in Ronald Ross’s book The Prevention of Malaria. He wrote: “The history of malaria in war might almost be taken to be the history of war itself, certainly the history of war in the Christian era.” He suggested that a specially selected medical officer should be placed in charge of antimalaria operations with executive and disciplinary powers.

Malaria has also been a great stimulus for research into newer anti malaria drugs. Cinchona bark and Quinine were “hot properties” during the two World Wars and inability to procure or maintain adequate stocks of quinine spurred research into other drugs to treat malaria so that the troops could be treated effectively. Thus it appears that probably a lot of money was spent on anti-malaria efforts during wars, if not more than what was spent on the war itself. The Navy Medical Research Center, Walter Reed Army Institute of Research , and the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases of the US Armed Forces is continuously engaged in research into developing newer drugs and vaccines against malaria.

history-warsSome well known conflicts marred by malaria include:

  • It is believed that Alexander the Great was killed by malaria at the height of his power. In alliance with Greek states, this Macedonian general had conquered the Persians, capturing the entire coastline of the eastern Mediterranean, Syria, Phoenicia, Arabia, and Egypt. Alexander also humbled the valiant tribes of northern India, virtually conquering the entire known world. He had set out to subjugate the earth but just as he was to depart with his army in early June 323 B.C., he contracted a fever and the voyage was postponed. At first the thirty-three-year-old general regarded his illness as nothing more than a temporary setback. But Alexander continued to deteriorate until he lapsed into a deep coma and died. Malaria, by striking Alexander, had altered the course of history. Had the military leader survived, he might well have succeeded in uniting east and west, fusing Greeks and Asians into a single nation. But in his absence, his empire crumbled, his army collapsed. Still later, historians believe, malaria was instrumental in the downfall of all Greek civilization by sapping the strength of the people and depopulating the countryside.
  • In the fourth century A.D., Alaric, King of the Goths, attacked Rome and triumphed. But his triumph was short lived for he got sick with malaria and died soon after entering the town.
  • The invading army of Attila (452 AD) was stopped in Rome by malaria
  • In 536 Belisarius, leading the army of the Eastern Empire, surrounded Rome, planning to starve the city into submission. To facilitate their plan, the soldiers ravaged the farms producing food and destroyed aqueducts to cut off the Roman water supply. But they made a fatal error by digging their entrenchments in the Campagna. With summer came malaria, which quickly decimated the ranks. Belisarius himself was severely stricken with fever but survived, a beaten man.
  • Emperor Otto I attacked Rome in 964 to suppress a revolt there but almost all his men died of malaria and those who still kept their health only dared to hope to live from one evening to the next morning. On 7 Dec., 983, his eldest son, Otto II, died of malaria at the age of 28 years in spite of medical intervention.
  • Frederick I, called Barbarossa, also failed in his attempt to conquer Rome. The army of Henry II was wiped out by malaria, but Henry IV managed to besiege Rome four times, always withdrawing the bulk of his soldiers during the summer months from the Campagna. The tiny force left behind was invariably annihilated by fever.
  • Malaria probably played a part in dissuading Genghis Khan (1162-1227) from invading Western Europe
  • After the death of Pope Alexander VI in 1503, his son Cesare Borgia plotted to dominate all Italy. But shortly , Cesare contracted severe malaria and was saved by his family doctor. By the time Cesare Borgia recoverd, his opportunity had passed.
  • By the end of 15th century, Columbus dropped anchor at the site of an old Indian village on Hispaniola to build a fort and colony on his second voyage to the New World. After a month, an epidemic of terrible fever afflicted the entire party, including Columbus himself.
  • Malaria continued to spread throughout North America during the Revolutionary War. Whole British garrisons are recorded as having succumbed to the disease, and some historians even speculate that the eventual British surrender at Yorktown may have been partly due to a severe fever epidemic.
  • One of the first military expenditures of the Continental Congress, around 1775, was for $300 to buy quinine to protect General Washington’s troops.
  • Malaria and yellow fever kept Napoleon Bonaparte from putting down the uprising in Hati in 1801
  • Malaria was used as a biological warfare agent in the Walcheren Expedition in the Low Countries, when the British were conquered by malaria before a battle could be fought. Starting on July 30, 1809 a British armed force of 39,000 men landed on Walcheren with a view to assisting the Austrians in their war against Napoleon, and attacking the French fleet moored at Flushing (Vlissingen). Napoleon had consolidated his grip on the continent by defeating the Austrians at Wagram earlier in the month. Napoleon reportedly flooded the Holland countryside to allow malaria to become rampant. Napoleon reportedly stated: “We must oppose the English with nothing but fever, which will soon devour them all.”  The British Army expedition became so stricken between August and October of that year that they were unable to sustain the campaign. In early August there were fewer than 700 men sick, but by 3 September over 8000 were in hospital. In late October 9000 troops were sick and easily outnumbered those fit for duty. Hospitals were set up in houses, churches, and warehouses, and conditions were appalling. The typical treatment included laxatives and emetics combined with other treatments such as venesection, blistering, and dousing with cold water. Alcohol and tobacco were regarded as panaceas. By the time the expedition ended in February 1810 the fever had caused the death of 60 officers and 3900 soldiers. Over 40% of the force had been struck down by disease, and six months later around 11000 men were still registered sick. This compared with only 100 killed in the sporadic fighting of what had become an irrelevant military adventure.  It has been estimated that in all theatres of war between 1793 and 1815 the total British losses were in the region of 240 000 men, with probably less than 30 000 of these deaths being caused by wounds.
  • During the American civil war in 1861-1865, malaria accounted for 1,316,000 episodes of illness and 10,000 deaths. It has been estimated that 50% of the white soldiers and 80% of the black soldiers got malaria annually.
  • The Italian campaigns of French and Austrian armies in 1859
  • In the 1864 West African campaigns, the troops were defeated by disease without the enemy ever seen or a “grain of powder expended”
  • The French campaign in Madagascar in 1895 saw 13 deaths in action and over 4,000 deaths due to malaria
  • World War I (1914–1918): In Macedonia, British, French, and German armies were immobilized for 3 years by malaria. On one occasion, when the French commanding general was ordered to attack, he replied: “Regret that my army is in hospital with malaria.” Nearly 80 percent of 120,000 French troops in this area were hospitalized with malaria. In an average British strength of 124,000, there were 162,512 admissions to hospital for malaria during the years 1916 to 1918, in contrast to 23,762 killed, wounded, prisoner, and missing in action. In the spring of 1918, about 25,000 British soldiers were sent home from Macedonia with chronic malaria, and, apart from these evacuees, over 2,000,000 man-days were lost to the British Army in this area in 1918 because of malaria. Approximately 7.5/1,000 Americans quartered in the U.S. were infected with malaria in 1917.

How mosquitoes helped win the American Revolution By John R. McNeill | The mosquito has played a leading role in the rise and fall of empires throughout history By John R. McNeill

Ronald Ross was asked to assist the British troops during the war and as a consultant he followed the troops to Egypt, Gallipoli, Salonika and Taranto. His health suffered during the war and he lost his older son in the British retreat from Mons.

  • World War II: Many troops had to suffer casualties by inflicted malaria even in World War II. Gen. Douglas MacArthur’s predicament in May 1943 is very clear: “This will be a long war if for every division I have facing the enemy I must count on a second division in hospital with malaria and a third division convalescing from this debilitating disease!” It appears that the general was not at all worried about defeating the Japanese, but was greatly concerned about the failure to defeat the Anopheles mosquito! 60,000 U.S. troops died in Africa and the South Pacific from malaria. U.S. Forces could succeed only after organising a successful attack on malaria.

Development and use of synthetic antimalarial drugs and residual insecticides like DDT were greatest “contributions” to malariology from World War II. The dependency on quinine as the only antimalarial was relieved and many new antimalarials like chloroquine, amodiaquin, primaquine, proquanil and pyrimethamine came into use.

  • Korean War (1950–1953): U.S. military hospitals were inundated with cases of malaria, with as many as 629 cases per week. More than 3,000 cases of malaria were documented in U.S. troops that served during the war.
  • Vietnam War (1962–1975): Malaria felled more combatants during the war than bullets. The disease reduced the combat strength of some units by half. Over 40,000 cases of Malaria were reported in US Army troops alone between 1965 and 70 with 78 deaths. The U.S. Army established a malaria drug research program when U.S. troops first encountered drug resistant malaria during the war. In 1967, the Chinese scientists set up Project 523 – a secret military project –  to help the Vietnamese military defeat malaria by developing artemisinin based anti malarial formulations.
  • Operation Restore Hope (1992–1994): Malaria was the No. 1 cause of casualties among US troops during the operation. From the time of deployment through April 1993, malaria was diagnosed in 48 military personnel. Malaria was diagnosed in 83 military personnel (21 Marine and 62 Army) following their return from Somalia.
  • Malaria in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Liberia (2001–2003): Many US soldiers in Iraq walked while eating just to avoid being bitten and infected by mosquitoes. In October 2001, a falciparum malaria epidemic that erupted in Afghanistan claimed 53 lives. When 290 marines went ashore in Liberia in September 2003, 80 contracted malaria. Of the 157 troops who spent at least one night ashore, 69 became infected. In Liberia, over a third of U.S. Marines sent in as military advisors to oversee a civil transition have contracted malaria.

Malaria has posed major problems during natural calamities. Outbreaks of malaria was a problem during many major constructions like that of the Suez canal and the Panama Canal. The Vatican was moved from a lower lying area to its present location, with work beginning in 1574, due to malaria. Malaria continues to be challenge in such situations even today.

Famous Victims of Malaria

Malaria has killed millions and many more have suffered from it. During the past 100 years, nearly 150 million to 300 million people would have died from the effects of malaria, accounting for 2-5% of all deaths. In the early part of the century, malaria probably accounted for 10% of global deaths to malaria and in India it probably accounted for over half. Here is a list of some of the more famous human beings who died or suffered from malaria.

history-victims1The Rich and the Famous Who Died of Malaria:

  • Emperor Titus Caesar Vespasianus Augustus died of fever, probably malaria, in AD 81
  • Alexander the Great is believed to have died of malaria in 323 BC, on the route to India beyond Mesopotamia
  • Alaric, King of the Goths, died of malaria in fourth century AD
  • St. Augustine, the first Archbishop of Canterbury, died after a 10 day febrile illness that could have been malaria
  • Otto II, King of the Germans and Emperor of Rome died on malaria on 7 Dec., 983
  • Pope Gregory V is thought to have died of malaria in 999
  • Pope Damasus II died in 1048 after only about 3 weeks in office, probably of malaria
  • Friedrich IV, Herzog von Schwaben died of malaria on 19 August 1167
  • German King and Holy Roman Emperor Heinrich died of malaria in 1197
  • Genghis Khan, the Mongol overlord of the 13th Century who set up the largest land empire ever known, is believed to have suffered from a malaria like illness in the spring of 1227, even as he was nursing his injuries. After several months of sickness, the Great Khan died. He was about sixty years old.
  • Richard, Earl of Cornwall died on 2 April 1272 of having been bled for ague
  • Henry of Luxemburg died at Siena of a fever, probably malaria, on 24 August 1313
  • Dante, Italian poet died of malaria 1321
  • Byzantine Emperor Andronicus III Palaeologus is thought to have died of malaria in 1341
  • In 1351, the much feared and ruthless ruler, Sultan Muhammed bin Tughluk contracted malaria while on a military campaign against rebels and within a short time succumbed to the disease.
  • King Edward IV died in 1483 of various complications, including malaria
  • One pope after another succumbed to malaria. Pontiffs from the north were especially vulnerable, and sometimes candidates for the papacy were difficult to find. The cardinals, too, were not immune, and consistently lost members to fever when gathering to choose a new pope. Finally, in the fourteenth century, foreign popes were no longer permitted to live in Rome, due to fear of “Roman fever.”
    • Pope Leo X died of malaria in 1521
    • Pope Sixtus V died of malaria in 1590
    • Giambattista Castana was elected Pope Urban VII in 1590, but died of malaria before his coronation
    • In 1623, when the Sacred College of Cardinals was convened to choose a successor to Pope Gregory XV, malaria felled many of these clergymen.
  • Roman Emperor Charles V supposedly died of malaria in 1558
  • Ethiopian Emperor Minas became ill with malaria and then died in 1563
  • Spanish Explorer Alvaro Mendana de Neira, discoverer of the Soloman Islands in 1568, died of malaria in 1595
  • Caravaggio, Italian painter probably died of malaria in 1610
  • Oliver Cromwell, Lord Protector, died of malaria in 1658
  • Lord Byron died of malaria in Greece in 1824
  • Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry supposedly contracted malaria in Venezuela and died of the disease in 1819
  • Josef Ressel, inventor of the propeller, died in 1857 of malaria
  • King Mongkut of Thailand died of malaria in 1868
  • Rebka Chenashu (Ethiopian 200m and 400m bonze medalist) died of malaria in 2003 at age 17
  • Amrish Puri (Indian Film Actor) died in January 2005 of a blood clot to the brain while being treated for malaria
  • Francis Ona, the Bougainville secessionist leader of Papua New Guinea, died of malaria at the age of 52 on 24 July, 2005

The Rich and Tthe Famous Who Suffered from Malaria:

  • American Presidents Who Suffered From Malaria:
  • George Washington, (1st President, 1789-1797): Developed his first bout with malaria in Virginia in 1749 at age 17. He had periodic attacks, recorded in 1752, 1761, 1784, and 1798.
  • James Monroe (5th President, 1817-1825) caught malaria while visiting a swampy area along the Mississippi in 1785. He continued to have bouts for many years
  • Andrew Jackson (7th President, 1829-1837) is thought to have contracted malaria in Florida swamps during the Seminole campaigns of 1818-1821
  • Abraham Lincoln (16th President, 1861-1865) had periodic bouts of malaria when growing up
  • Ulysses S. Grant (18th President, 1869-1877) had malaria throughout the 1850’s
  • James A. Garfield (20th President, 1881) developed malaria in 1848 in Ohio at age 16
  • Theodore Roosevelt (26th President, 1901-1909) acquired malaria during a visit to Brazil in 1914
  • history-victims2John F. Kennedy (35th President, 1961-1963) acquired malaria during World War II, about 1943
  • Royalty
    • Belisarius in Rome in 536
    • Emperor Kangxi (Emperor of the Qing dynasty, 1661-1722) was cured of malaria by French Jesuit missionaries in about 1693
    • Louisa Maria, Queen of Spain, was cured of malaria with quinine in 1678
    • James I
    • King Charles II had recorded bouts of malaria in 1678 and 1679 and was cured using quinine
    • Hannibal’s wife and son
    • Emperor Isabel
    • Felipe II
    • Felipe IV
    • Felipe V
    • Fernando VI
    • Carlos II
    • And many others…..
  • Christopher Columbus (had to cut short his fourth voyage to the new world in 1503, again attempting to find a sea route to Asia, due (in part) to malaria)
  • Cesare Borgia in 1503
  • Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, surgeon and writer of Sherlock Holmes fame
  • Alfred Russell Wallace, co-discoverer along with Charles Darwin of the concept of Natural Selection
  • Meriwether Lewis, explorer
  • Henry Morton Stanley and Dr. David Livingstone, famed explorers
  • Jefferson Davis, Politician and Provisional President of the Confederate States of America
  • Lucretia Garfield, first lady to President Garfield
  • George B. McClellan, Civil war general
  • Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam revolutionary leader
  • Jesse James
  • General John J. Pershing
  • Mahatma Gandhi, Father of Indian nation
  • Ernest Hemingway, celebrated author
  • Lord Horatio Nelson
  • Leon Trotsky
  • Eugene O’Neill, Playwrite
  • Sir Harry Secombe
  • Ross Kemp (Former East Enders star)
  • Santa Teresa de Jesús
  • Hernán Cortés
  • Don Adams (Actor and director)
  • Errol Flynn (Actor)
  • Peta Wilson (Actress)
  • Carol Landis (Actress)
  • Raymond Burr (Actor)
  • Audie Murphy (Actor and war hero)
  • Michael Caine (Actor)
  • Christopher Lee (Actor)
  • Michael Dudikoff (Actor)
  • Jeremy Piven (Actor)
  • Al Jolson
  • Jane Goodall, naturalist
  • Davy Crockett, outdoorsman and congressman
  • Steve Reeves (Body builder)
  • Chris Matthews (MSNBCs Hardball)
  • Anderson Cooper (Former ABC news correspondent)
  • Roberto Clemente (Baseball player)
  • history-victims3Wilson Kipeter (800m champion)
  • Yakubu Aiyegbeni (Soccer star)
  • Dikembe Mutombo (Star center for the New Jersey Nets)
  • Ezekiel Kemboi (Olympic 3000m steeplechase champion of Kenya)
  • Mother Teresa was hospitalized with malaria in 1993
  • Leander Paes, Indian tennis star

and many others…..

Some NEW victims of malaria:

  • Didier Zokora, the Ivory Coast international playing for Tottenham had a mild bout of malaria in Oct 2006 [See]
  • Paul Smith, aged 30, a British oil worker kidnapped by gunmen in Nigeria died of malaria while still a hostage held in mosquito infested swamps. Paul and colleagues were snatched on October 3, 2006 inside the Exxon Mobil residential compound in Eket [See]
  • DR Congo’s Lomana Lua Lua was struck down by malaria while on international duty in September 2005 [See]


© ©BS Kakkilaya | Last Updated: June 7, 2016


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