Monday, August 15, 2011

The Winged Scourge

I just found a malaria PSA made by Disney in 1943. It's a fascinating look onto a time when malaria was still endemic in the United States. The first four minutes give a very simple, yet scientific explanation of how the anopheles mosquito spreads the malaria parasite. The anopheles is named a criminal, a monster and public enemy #1.

The PSA, in true Disney fashion, has a dramatic narrator and music that makes you think the mosquito will become a wicked stepmother queen at any moment. At 4:09 the Seven Dwarves are employed in some pretty crazy vector control. Of course we all know DDT was used to combat mosquitoes in the 1940's, but who knew people were encouraged to coat water surfaces with oil? (That doesn't really sound like such a good idea to me!) Other techniques, such as cleaning up trash that can collect water, are still relevant today.

Especially of interest is the implication that malaria can cause poverty. We see the ruin of a lovely farm after the farmer is bitten by an infected mosquito. The farm falls into disrepair and poverty because the farmer is too sick to work. Malaria and poverty have a symbiotic relationship. In areas where malaria is still prevalent, the power of the work force is burdened with constant illness. And it is the poor who are the most likely to live near swamplands or to be unable to afford mosquito nets or treatment when sick.

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