Spraying Mosquitoes

Date: 1945
Owner: National Library of Medicine
Source Type: Images

This photograph shows a party of U.S. and Brazilian men spraying pesticides to destroy a mosquito breeding ground in Brazil. Between 1923 and 1935, the Rockefeller Foundation made the eradication of yellow fever its priority in Brazil, the largest Latin American country and thus the focus of much of the RF's efforts. Carlos Finlay's experiments in Cuba during the late nineteenth century had proven that mosquitoes were the vector of yellow fever and, since the turn of the century, the destruction of the Aedes aegypti had become a priority for health officials in most American countries.

According to historian Steven C. Williams, the RF's approach to eradicating disease-bearing mosquitoes allowed Brazil's national government to exert a more dominant role in state politics. Local leaders had enjoyed the support garnered by public fumigation campaigns that, in dramatic fashion, killed urban mosquitoes. The RF and federal government, however, advocated the more effective method of destroying Aedes aegypti while still in their larval stage, a practice that both prevented them from spreading yellow fever and from producing more mosquitoes. By institutionalizing this practice in lieu of the local mosquito killing campaigns, the RF helped to ensure that the national government, and not the various states, would have the leading role in Brazilian public health.  These methods of larval elimination promoted by the RF in its anti-mosquito campaignes were often resented by local people for being invasive, since they involved methods like putting fish in home drinking water stored in jugs, or spreading a film of oil on water supplies to prevent mosquitos from breeding.

By the mid 1930s, however, it became clear that eliminating yellow fever in toto would not be possible. The RF thus shifted its efforts in Latin America to programs with which it could have more potential success, such as the agricultural collaboration with Mexico.

Reference: Williams, Steven C. "Nationalism and Public Health: The Convergence of Rockefeller Foundation Technique and Brazilian Federal Authority during the Time of Yellow Fever, 1925-1930." In Marcos Cueto, ed., Missionaries of Science: The Rockefeller Foundation and Latin America. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1994.

CITATION: Malaria control unit no. 202 sprays the swamps in Brazil, 10/31/45. United States National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health. Order #: A015231.