August 20 is designated as World Mosquito Day. Not to celebrate the mosquito but Sir Donald Ross who discovered that the female mosquito was the culprit in spreading the malarial parasite.

World Mosquito Day is celebrated on August 20. But this is not a celebration of mosquitoes! But rather, it was a day in 1897 when British doctor Sir Ronald Ross discovered, while he was working in the Indian Medical Services in Kolkata, that it was the female mosquito that spread the deadly malaria parasite among human beings.

Shortly after his discovery, Sir Ronald Ross requested that the day be observed as World Mosquito Day thereafter. Sir Ross became the first British person to receive the Nobel Prize in Medicine in 1902 for his extensive research on malaria.

Malaria has been buzzing around for thousands of years. Around 12,000 years ago when the humidity level rose in Africa creating pools of water and stagnation puddles, it became a favourable breeding ground for the parasites and their transmitters — mosquitoes.

The term Malaria comes from the Italian Mal or bad and Aria or air. Our ancestors thought that it was the foul air that rose in the late evenings from the puddles that gave them the chills and fever. So, all doors and windows were shut to keep out the bad air.

Now, we do the same with a little more inkling of what the bad air brings along with it from the stagnating puddles — the mosquitoes.

How it spreads

Malaria is spread by a type of microscopic parasite called Plasmodium which is transmitted mainly by the night-biting female Anopheles Mosquito.

There are a few varieties of Plasmodium parasites that cause malaria in humans.

Alphonse Laveran, a French military doctor discovered the protozoan parasite in 1880 for which he was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1907.

Italian researchers Grassi and Filetti discovered Plasmodium vivax and Plasmodium malariae parasites in 1890.

American researcher Welch discovered Plasmodium falciparum in 1897 and Stephens discovered the last parasite Plasmodium ovale in 1922.

It was Sir Ronald Ross who discovered that these parasites were lodged in the gastrointestinal tract of the female Anopheles mosquitoes. And that the disease was transmitted to humans by the bite of the mosquitoes which he initially called ‘Dapple wings’.

Malaria is found in most tropical countries including Africa and Asia, Dominican Republic, Haiti, Central and South America, Pacific Islands and some parts of Middle East.

According to the WHO, in 2010 there were 655,000 malarial deaths worldwide. At around 106 countries and territories, 3.3 billion people are at risk of getting malaria. The African region claimed 91 per cent of the deaths followed by South East Asia and Eastern Mediterranean Region. Children were found more vulnerable to the deadly parasite with 86 per cent getting affected by malaria. In poverty stricken African countries, reports say that a child dies of malaria every 30 seconds

On August 20, 1931, a tea party was held in the Ross Institute to honour Sir Ronald Ross. Ever since, The Malaria Centre at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine throws a party celebrating the work of malaria eradication around the world.