Mexican Girl Gives a Blood Sample

Date: 1962
Owner: Courtesy of the World Health Organization Archives.
Source Type: Images


This photograph from 1962 shows a young Mexican girl giving a blood sample to a government worker testing for malaria. As part of Mexico's mid twentieth century malaria eradication campaign (assisted by the Pan American Sanitation Bureau), the government brought anti-malarial testing and mosquito eradication to rural parts of Mexico, taking great strides to protect the population from this disease. Sanitation officials encountered many obstacles during this campaign, the most pronounced of which was the language barrier. Much of the rural population spoke indigenous languages like Nahuatl or Zapotec, and over thirty different words existed for the disease "malaria" (bad air) alone.

Yet many of the ideologies behind Mexico's rural anti-malaria campaign were based on the racist tenets of tropical medicine. Indians, a "tropical race," were considered to be carriers of malaria and other diseases most common in hot, humid climates, and were thus targeted disproportionately. Malarial symptoms like anemia were readily associated with very old elitist stereotypes that Indians were a lazy race, and their non-modern culture was seen as an obstacle to such sanitation efforts. Thus the technicians and doctors sent to the rural villages tried to eradicate indigenous healers concurrently with malaria, disparaging their traditional medical techniques as primitive and useless. The malaria campaign was one aspect of Mexico's Cold War era effort to centralize the country and bring indigenous peoples and outlying areas into a more nationally integrated Mexico.

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

CITATION: Photograph by Paul Almasy. Courtesy of the World Health Organization.