Category Archives: malaria

German East Africa Import Substitutions

From African Kaiser: General Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck and the Great War in Africa, 1914-1918, by Robert Gaudi (Caliber, 2017), Kindle Loc. 3843-3870:

The British blockade of German East Africa—challenged briefly by Königsberg before she hightailed it up the Rufiji—was nearly a complete success. Shortages of basic necessities made themselves painfully felt everywhere. The colonists soon lacked adequate supplies of soap, toothpaste, candles, fuel, beer, booze, rubber, cloth, chocolate, castor oil, and, most important, quinine, without which life in the tropics became impossible for Europeans. One or two blockade runners reached the Swahili Coast after many ha[r]dships—notably the Krönborg-Rubens and the Marie von Stettin—but these were heroic exceptions. The aim of any blockade—complete starvation of the enemy—seemed within reach of the British Royal Navy for the first few months of 1915.

Then, with the begrudging help of Governor Schnee, still stewing away at Morogoro, von Lettow organized the colony to produce some of the most needed items. German East Africa, rich in natural resources, mostly lacked the necessary infrastructure—factories, refineries, laboratories, warehouses—to turn these resources into commercial goods. But presently, the colonists took it upon themselves to manufacture a variety of products for both civilians and Schutztruppe—now reaching its peak popularity as patriotic enthusiasm, fueled by the victory at Tanga, swept the colony.

Planters’ wives revived the neglected art of spinning using native cotton; African women, given scratch-built looms, wove bolts of cloth. Between them, they more than made up for the lack of imported fabric. Leather torn from the backs of native buffalo herds and tanned using chemicals extracted from the colony’s plentiful mangrove trees got cobbled into the boots so critical for the Schutztruppe—soon to march unimaginable distances over rough landscapes, much of which could not be traversed barefoot. Candles materialized from tallow; rubber from tapped trees: carefully dripped along rope, the raw, milky stuff was then hand-kneaded into tires for GEA’s few automobiles, including von Lettow’s staff car. A kind of primitive, homemade gasoline called trebol powered these vehicles—it was a by-product of distillates of copra, which also yielded benzene and paraffin. Soap came from a combination of animal fat and coconut oil. Planters and small businessmen eventually produced 10,000 pounds of chocolate and cocoa and 3,000 bottles of castor oil. Meanwhile, new factories sprang up in Dar es Salaam to make nails and other metal goods, including some ammunition. Rope woven from pineapple fiber proved both durable and less susceptible to rot than hempen rope from Germany; cigars and cigarettes rolled from native-grown tobacco made their way into every soldier’s kit. At Morogoro and elsewhere, home brewers distilled schnapps and moonshine. The latter, at 98 proof and optimistically labeled “whiskey,” was issued to the troops as part of their basic rations.

All this ingenuity, however, would be rendered useless without quinine. Before the war, the colony had gotten its supply from distributors in the Dutch East Indies, now cut off by the blockade. Dwindling supplies meant European populations of the colony would have no defense against their greatest enemy—not the British or rebellious natives but the malaria-bearing anopheles mosquito. At von Lettow’s urging, the famous biological research center at Amani turned its chemists to developing a quinine substitute in their laboratories. The chemists researched furiously, tried formulations of this and that, and at last came up with an effective type of liquid quinine distilled from cinchona bark. Called “von Lettow schnapps” by his men, this foul-tasting, much-reviled elixir nevertheless met most of the army’s needs for the next year or so.

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Filed under Britain, economics, food, Germany, industry, Kenya, malaria, migration, military, nationalism, Tanzania, war

Malaria Killed More than Combat in PNG

From Hell’s Battlefield: The Australians in New Guinea in World War II, by Phillip Bradley (Allen & Unwin, 2012), Kindle Loc. 4885-4905:

From the moment the Australians flew into Nadzab, they were under insidious assault. Carried by the fragile mosquito, malaria could fell and even kill the strongest of men, and the Ramu Valley, the valley of death in the local dialect, had one of the highest incidences in the country.

The traditional treatment was with quinine, but 90 per cent of the world’s supply came from cinchona-tree plantations in Java, which was now under Japanese occupation. After the 252 Lark Force escapees ran out of quinine on New Britain in early 1942, fifty died within five weeks and most of the remainder needed hospitalisation. An alternative malaria suppressant had to be found or it would be impossible to maintain troops in northern Australia, let alone New Guinea. Atebrin, a synthetic version of quinine that had been developed in Germany before the war, became the Australian Army’s official antimalarial drug, and what quinine remained was reserved for treatment. Australian scientists helped develop practical methods of synthesising Atebrin and pinpointed the dosage that most effectively suppressed malaria among deployed troops. In New Guinea, wearing protective clothing, using mosquito nets, spraying, improving drainage and of course taking the bittertasting Atebrin pills became as important as any combat discipline.

Malaria is not found above elevations of about 1000 metres, but most of the fighting in New Guinea took place along the coast or in the lowlands of the Markham and Ramu Valleys. High rainfall increased the opportunities for mosquitoes to breed, so the relatively dry area around Port Moresby was less dangerous than Milne Bay and the Papuan beachheads, where malaria was rampant. From October 1942 to April 1943, malaria caused almost five times more casualties than combat did. Even that was not the full story, as most affected men had recurrences of the disease after returning to Australia. The highly malarial environment of the Ramu Valley almost crippled the Australian campaign. Almost 1 in 10 of the operational troops were falling ill with malaria each week, meaning that within eleven weeks almost all would be infected. There were other diseases, some—such as scrub typhus—much deadlier, but malaria accounted for 90 per cent of losses due to disease. As a result of the scientists’ studies, the daily Atebrin dose was doubled, and the infection rate fell by about two-thirds. For Japanese troops in New Guinea, malaria was also a serious problem. Though they had stocks of quinine, the progressive breakdown of their supply system meant that almost all frontline troops were infected with malaria, and deaths from it increased as the war went on.

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Filed under Australia, disease, drugs, Japan, malaria, military, Papua New Guinea, war

The Japanese Retreat from Lae, PNG

From Hell’s Battlefield: The Australians in New Guinea in World War II, by Phillip Bradley (Allen & Unwin, 2012), Kindle Loc. 4518-4577:

After the loss of the Bismarck Sea convoy the previous March, the Japanese command in Lae had seen the writing on the wall and made contingency plans for evacuation. As part of those preparations, the engineering unit of Lieutenant Masamichi Kitamoto had orders to blaze a land route across the Huon Peninsula to Lae. At the 1932 Olympic Games in Los Angeles, Kitamoto had run for Japan. Now he would again be asked to use his legs for his country. A week after the loss of the Lae convoy, his fifty-man detachment from the 30th Regiment Independent Engineers crossed the Vitiaz Strait from Tuluvu, on the western tip of New Britain, and landed on the New Guinea mainland. With a native guide, the heavily burdened engineers set out to cross the Saruwaged Range to Lae. ‘It was just like climbing a slide from the bottom to the top,’ Kitamoto wrote later. ‘You had to bend forward deeply to bring the centre of gravity before you. It was as if someone had put a heavy weight on our heads and [was] pulling our legs at the same time.’ It only got worse: ‘The incline kept going up and up into the skies. Our legs grew stiff and we gasped for breath . . . Gazing at the clouds below us, we continued the march up the sharp incline . . . It was so cold that it seemed that our hands which grasped the rocks to pull us up would become frozen.’ At 4500 metres, Kitamoto’s engineers crossed a summit higher than Mount Fuji in Japan. Almost as testing was the descent down the other side. The expedition to Lae took three weeks, but when Kitamoto reported to Lieutenant General Hidemitsu Nakano’s headquarters on 3 April, just a month after the Bismarck Sea debacle, Nakano had his escape route.

Now it was mid-September, and the Japanese situation in Lae was desperate as Kitamoto again reported to Nakano’s headquarters. When the young lieutenant entered, Nakano was in conference with his key officers, poring over a map spread across the table. Kitamoto soon learned that Nakano had ordered a retreat: there would be no final battle for Lae. Civilian employees had already left, beginning their trek on 4 September. For the troops who remained, there were two potential routes: across the Saruwaged Range to the north coast, or through the foothills of the Finisterre Range, parallel to the Markham Valley. Having traversed both, Kitamoto was asked for his opinion. ‘The second plan is impossible,’ he told Nakano, knowing that Allied aircraft could easily interdict a route through the kunai grass that covered the foothills. Kitamoto continued: ‘The first plan is difficult, but there is still some chance of success. If I had to make the final decision I would choose Plan 1. However, the sacrifice will be great.’ The die was cast: the order was issued.

The first group of Japanese soldiers, about 2000 naval troops including Kitamoto’s men, set off from Lae on 12 September, making their way inland along the west bank of the Busu River. They formed one of four groups, totalling 8650 men, headed for the high mountains with enough rations to last ten days. Intermediate supply dumps were established north of Gawan and at Iloko. The first and third groups went into the mountains via Gawan, the second and fourth groups via Kemen. Kitamoto’s engineers led the way, setting up signposts and repairing the track as they went. They crossed the Busu about 3 kilometres upstream from the now fallen kunda bridge. General Nakano travelled with the second group, which halted at the Busu for three days while a new bridge was constructed. The final organised group left Lae on 15 September.

Shigeru Horiuchi, a twenty-two-year-old private with III/238th Battalion, had arrived in Lae only a week before the Australian invasion. Since then, his unit had gone through ‘two weeks of hell,’ under constant attack from Allied bombers; ‘even the officers were trembling in funk holes and had no taste for fighting.’ Horiuchi’s company did not leave Lae until 17 September, but Horiuchi was soon forced to drop out because of a leg wound. He was captured a few days later sheltering in a native village 25 kilometres north of Lae.

In the first days of the trek, 200 men had died, mostly wounded and sick. ‘The mountains were only 500 metres high and this much casualties,’ Kitamoto observed with dismay. ‘How many will die before we clear Mt. Sarawaket, which is 4500 metres high? The sharp precipices rising before us will take many victims.’ Once the track began to rise, ‘the soldiers helped each other along, the strong carrying the rifles of weak men. However, as they grow tired, even the strong began to discard their rifles.’ Kitamoto ordered that any discarded weapons should have the chrysanthemum insignia filed off because ‘it was humiliating to throw away the arms that belong to the emperor.’

As the men weakened, the incidence of malaria increased and more men dropped out. In the first 1500 metres of the climb after leaving Kemen, 500 men died. Steep precipices dropped away on both sides of the track. ‘After we escaped the clutches of the enemy we were confronted by nature,’ Kitamoto wrote. Those who lived also confronted the corpses of those who died. ‘Using the dead bodies as stepping stones and clinging to the slippery lichen-covered rocks, the men made their way up the mountain. Fresh red blood ran from the mouths of the dead when they were stepped on and their glassy eyes stared us in the face.’ Approaching 4000 metres, the cold bit hard into lightweight tropical uniforms; though exhausted, the men were afraid to fall asleep lest they freeze to death. Another 800 men died crossing the top of the range. ‘The screaming voices of the men who slipped from the log bridges to their death in the canyons below, the wailing cries of the men who could move no more and were asking for help . . . it was a sense of hell, something quite out of this world.’

By now the rations had gone. Starving, some men ate human flesh. As he approached the summit of Mount Saruwaged, Kitamoto saw that ‘in the shadow of the rocks, three soldiers had pinned a trooper to the ground while one of them stabbed him in the heart with his bayonet. There were no signs that the dead man had asked the others to kill him. The remaining three soldiers cut slices of the dead trooper’s thigh and began to devour the human flesh.’ After Kitamoto shouted at them, ‘the men looked in my direction, flies that gathered about dead meat swarmed about their faces but they had no strength to drive them away. They had become mad with hunger and fatigue.’ Kitamoto covered the corpse and moved on.

In the end even Kitamoto’s strength gave out, and he was carried to the coast on a stretcher. He reached Kiari, some 20 kilometres west of Sio, twenty days after leaving Lae. Staff Officer Sugiyama told him: ‘I wish to bow my head in gratitude for your strong legs. Your legs saved the whole division.’ Once he recovered, Kitamoto headed back to the top of the range to help the stragglers reach the coast. The last stretcher case was brought in on 15 November. An 18th Army report showed that of the 8650 who had left Lae, 6417 survived—a loss of over 25 percent. Most of the survivors staggered into Kiari suffering from malnutrition and malaria. Although only 1271 of them were officially classified as ‘sick,’ Kitamoto wrote that all the men ‘were a group of invalids . . . in no condition to fight.’

Even on the coast, safety was not assured: three men died as they rested on the beach, crushed by a falling coconut tree. ‘At second look, I discovered that they were the men who became mad and ate their comrade during the march,’ Kitamoto wrote. His right-hand man, the native guide Rabo, also knew what these men had done. ‘Those soldiers no good,’ he told Kitamoto as he stared at the three dead men. ‘They eat friend. God punish them.’ As Rabo turned away, Kitamoto felt a shiver run down his spine.

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Mosquitoes to Mars?

A few weeks ago, RIA Novosti reported on a type of mosquito that seems preadapted to the possibility of suspended animation during long space flights.

Cosmonauts who might fly to the Red Planet are learning how to survive in a forest outside Moscow. Scientists from the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Medical and Biological Problems are assessing the impact of cosmic radiation on living organisms, one of which even managed to survive in outer space.

Anatoly Grigoryev, vice president of the Russian Academy of Sciences, told RIA Novosti that a mosquito had managed to survive in outer space. First, it appeared that Grigoryev was talking about a spider running loose aboard the International Space Station. Incredibly, a mosquito slept for 18 months on the outer ISS surface. “We brought him back to Earth. He is alive, and his feet are moving,” Grigoryev said.

The mosquito did not get any food and was subjected to extreme temperatures ranging from minus 150 degrees Celsius in the shade to plus 60 degrees in the sunlight.

Grigoryev said the insect had been taken outside the ISS on orders from the Institute’s scientists working on the Biorisk experiment. “First, they studied bacteria and fungi till a Japanese scientist suggested studying mosquitoes,” Grigoryev told RIA Novosti….

“Professor Takashi Okuda from the National Institute of Agro-Biological Science drew our attention to the unique, although short-lived, African mosquito (bloodworm), whose larvae develop only in a humid environment,” Grigoryev said.

Rains are rare in Africa, where puddles dry up before one’s eyes. However, this mosquito is well-adapted to adverse local conditions, existing in a state of suspended animation when vital bodily functions stop almost completely.

When suspended animation sets in, water molecules are replaced by tricallosa sugar, which leads to natural crystallization. The larvae were then sprayed with acetone, boiled and cooled down to minus 210 degrees Celsius, the temperature of liquid nitrogen. Amazingly, they survived all these hardships.

The Japanese also studied bloodworm DNA and found that it could be switched on and deactivated in 30 to 40 minutes. “This is facilitated by the crystallization of biological matter,” Doctor of Biology Vladimir Sychev from the Institute of Medical and Biological Problems told RIA Novosti.

If Anopheles mosquitoes can do the same, it may not take long for the first humans settlers on Mars to melt some of its ice and turn barren landscapes into malarial swamps.

via Japundit

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Filed under Africa, Japan, malaria, Russia, science

WHO Endorses DDT Use Indoors

Saturday’s Washington Post reports:

The World Health Organization reversed a 30-year-old policy yesterday and declared its support for indoor use of the pesticide DDT to control mosquitoes in regions where malaria is a major health problem.

The Geneva-based WHO, which provides advice to many developing countries, believes the benefits of the long-acting pesticide far outweigh any health or environmental risk it may pose….

The endorsement is only for once- or twice-yearly spraying of the pesticide on the inside walls of dwellings, especially mud and thatched huts. Used that way, DDT functions as both an insect repellent and — when a blood-engorged female mosquito lands on the wall to digest its meal — an insecticide.

One application costs about $5. Most of that cost is labor, as it is sprayed on by professional applicators, and each packet of the pesticide must be strictly accounted for.

About 1 million people die each year of malaria, most of them African children under age 5. …

Numerous countries in southern Africa use DDT, but the compound is generally not used in central and west Africa, which have more intense malaria transmission, said Shiva Murugasampillay, a physician at WHO in Geneva.

DDT was the chief chemical villain of Rachel Carson’s book “Silent Spring,” whose publication in 1962 helped nurture the modern environmental movement. The chemical was banned in the United States in 1972, and its use worldwide fell steeply after that. It is no longer used in agriculture.

A study in Zambia in 2000 found that when all houses in a neighborhood were sprayed, malaria incidence fell 35 percent compared with years when none was sprayed.

Swaziland and Madagascar each had malaria epidemics after suspending DDT spraying, the latter’s outbreak killing more than 100,000 people from 1986 to 1988. Both epidemics were stopped when DDT spraying resumed.

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Good News on the Malaria Front

The NewsHour on 4 January carried a fascinating (to me) report about some real progress on the malaria front in Africa: a WHO-backed experiment to manufacture and distribute mosquito nets impregnated with slow-decay insecticide.

JONATHAN SNOW: How the Olyset long life nets are made is another part of this story.

The AtoZ factory is a huge complex in the northern Tanzania city of Arusha. Mosquito netting in vast profusion being produced by Africans, for Africans, African workers, 1,200 of them quite literally saving other Africans’ lives.

The engineers are Chinese. The technology is Japanese. The labor is African. And the money to purchase the completed nets is international.

In sum total, this is the global partnership to roll back malaria. And already this one factory is producing three million nets a year. But this is no place of altruism. This is a vigorously commercial enterprise.

The resin for the yarn comes from ExxonMobil in Saudi. They give the sum AtoZ pays for it back to UNICEF to buy still more nets.

The Japanese pharmaceutical company Sumitomo sells the magic long-life insecticide ingredients to AtoZ but has donated a free and vital technology transfer.

Inside each of these white pellets is insecticide which will bleed out of the yarn over five years.

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Malaria Drugs Misused

The VOA reports:

Roughly 50 years ago, chloroquine and other quinine-derived drugs were extremely effective in treating malaria, a disease spread by the bite of mosquitos infected with the parasite, Plasmodium falciparum.

The illness causes extremely high fevers, bouts of chills, jaundice and severe anemia. Young children who contract malaria often die.

Chloroquine and mefloquine have since become ineffective against the parasite because of the misuse of chloroquine, but in the last decade or so, an effective, new drug [long used in China], called artemisinin, has come into use.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has urged countries to use artemisinin in combination with other anti-malarials so it, too, does not lose its effectiveness.

But the warning isn’t being heeded, and a study published this week in the journal the Lancet found the first evidence of resistance to artemisinin in two African countries where the drug is readily available, according to researcher Ramon Jambou of the Pasteur Institute.

“In Senegal and in French Guiana, artemisinin was not used by the ministry. It just used by everyone but on markets and so on,” he explained.

Dr. Jambou and colleagues took blood samples from 530 patients in French Guiana, Senegal and Cambodia treated with different artemisinin-derived drugs. The samples were tested to measure the parasite’s sensitivity to artemisinin.

The researchers found no resistance in samples taken from Cambodia, which carefully controls the use of the drug. The parasite was less sensitive to the drug in Senegal, where artemisinin is somewhat restricted. Resistance to the drug was greatest in French Guiana, where it is readily available.

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