Eradicating Mosquitoes

Date: 1968
Owner: Courtesy of the World Health Organization Archives.
Source Type: Images


This photograph from 1968 shows a Mexican sanitation worker using a horse to cross rough mountain terrain in order to spray DDT (stored in the large canister) in remote villages. In the early twentieth century, health officials in the U.S. and Europe, using the mosquito eradication techniques developed as part of Carlos Finlay's work on yellow fever in Puerto Rico, had almost completely rid their countries of malaria. It thus came to be considered an exclusively tropical malady, one most often carried by blacks and Indians, supposedly "tropical races" natural to hot and humid regions. In the early decades of the Cold War, Mexico made a concerted effort to eradicate this disease. This campaign was made necessary by the failure of late nineteenth and early twentieth century public sanitation efforts, both by international organizations like the Pan American Sanitation Bureau (PASB) and Rockefeller Foundation, as well as Latin American programs promoted by local doctors, reformers, and eugenicists.

Building largely on the Cold War political ideology of containment, Mexico adopted a similar strategy in its anti-malaria campaign. It thus tried to eliminate mosquitoes, the disease's vector, and cure those already exposed to it by administering quinine free of charge. Mexico also became a center for training other Latin American eradicators; from 1957-1962, over five hundred technicians from several South and Central American countries traveled to Mexico on PASB fellowships to learn novel techniques. Such "south to south" diffusions of scientific knowledge evince the fact that modern science is by no means always spread outwards from Europe or the U.S.

Reference: Cueto, Marcos. Cold War, Deadly Fevers: Malaria Eradication in Mexico, 1955-1975. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2007.

CITATION: Photograph by Peter Larsen. Courtesy of the World Health Organization Archives.