Disney showed how to beat malaria in the Americas, without DDT


Still photo from Walt Disney's "Winged Scourge," a wanted poster for "Anopheles, alias Malaria Mosquito." The 1943 film short suggested ways to cut populations of the malaria-spreading mosquitoes of the genus Anopheles. Disease prevention would aid the war effort in 1943, it was hoped.

Still photo from Walt Disney’s “Winged Scourge,” a wanted poster for “Anopheles, alias Malaria Mosquito.” The 1943 film short suggested ways to cut populations of the malaria-spreading mosquitoes of the genus Anopheles. Disease prevention would aid the war effort in 1943, it was hoped.

Malaria’s scourge hobbled economic progress across the Americas, and critically in World War II, that hobbled the war effort to defeat the Axis powers, Germany and Japan.

U.S. government recruiting of Hollywood film makers to produce propaganda films hit a zenith in the war. Even animated characters joined in. Cartoonists produced short subject cartoons on seeveral topics.

In 1943 the Disney studios distributed this film starring the Seven Dwarfs, among the biggest Disney stars of the time. The film was aimed at Mexico, Central America and South America, suggesting ways people could actually fight malaria. Versions were made in Spanish and English (I have found no Portuguese version for Brazil, but I’m still looking.)

the lost Disney described the film:

The first of a series of health-related educational shorts produced by the Disney studios and the Coordinator of Inter-American Affairs for showing in Latin America. It was also the only one to use established Disney characters (the Seven Dwarfs).

In this propaganda short, the viewers are taught about how the mosquito can spread malaria. A young mosquito flies into a house and consumes the blood of an infected human. She then consumes the blood of a healthy human, transmitting the disease into him. It turns out that this is actually a film within a film and the Seven Dwarves are watching it. They volunteer to get rid of the mosquito by destroying her breeding grounds.

A Spanish-language version of the film:

Fighting malaria in the U.S. became a grand campaign in Franklin Roosevelt’s administration. Roosevelt administration officials saw malaria as a sapper of wealth, especially in the rural south. Part of the charge of the Tennessee Valley Authority was to wipe out malaria. By 1932, public health agencies in malaria-affected counties were beefed up to be able to promptly diagnose and treat human victims of malaria. TVA taught methods of drying up mosquito breeding places around homes and outdoor work areas. Sustained campaigns urged people to make their homes tighter, against weather, and to install screens on windows and doors to prevent mosquito entry especially at peak biting periods, dusk to after midnight.

U.S. malaria deaths and infections plunged by 90% between 1933 and 1942 — just in time to allow southern military bases to be used for training activities for World War II. After the war, the malaria-fighting forces of the government became the foundation for the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). With the introduction of DDT after 1945, CDC had another weapon to completely wipe out the remaining 10% of malaria cases and deaths.

It’s worth noting that in the end, it is the disease malaria that is eradicated, not the mosquitoes. In most places in the world, eradication of a local population of disease carriers is a temporary thing. A few remaining, resistant-to-pesticide-or-method mosquitoes can and do quickly breed a new population of hardier insects, and often surrounding populations will contribute new genetic material. Eradication of a vector-borne disease requires curing the disease in humans, so that when the mosquitoes come roaring back, they have no well of disease from which to draw new infection.

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