Alphonse Laveran’s Discovery and the Fight against Malaria

Alphonse Laveran
(1845 – 1922)

On November 6, 1880, while working in the military hospital in Constantine, Algeria, French military surgeon Charles Louis Alphonse Laveran discovered that the cause of malaria is a parasite. For this work and later discoveries of protozoan diseases Laveran was awarded the 1907 Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine.

Charles Louis Alphonse Laveran enrolled at the school for general medicine in Strasbourg in 1863. Three years later, he continued his studies at local hospitals and earned his Ph.D in 1870. In the same year, the scientist moved to Metz in the northeast of France as a military officer and took part in the Battle of Gravelotte.

Laveran started teaching and researching at the École de Val-de-Grâce in 1874, where he joined the chair for military diseases as the successor of his father. His actual studies on malaria started in 1878, when he was sent to Algeria. Laveran discovered the disease’s cause in a patient’s blood and presented his findings in Rome two years later to a scientific audience. In the following years, the famous scientist got promoted several times and started working at the Pasteur Institute in Paris in 1896. He researched on several other causes of infectious diseases and received the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1907. A great part of the money he won was gifted to the Pasteur Institute in order to increase research on tropical diseases.

Even though, Laveran’s contributions to research on the malaria disease are enormous, the first known cases of malaria were found in the ancient Egypt. But also about 3000 years old writings in India were found, describing the illness and even 2000 years ago, Chinese wrote about a possible cure. Hippocrates of Cos noticed that humans living near swamp areas were more likely to be infected than others, but ‘invisible’ germs in general were unknown back then. The Roman Empire faced several periods of malaria epidemics and with the beginning of the Medieval Era, the disease was found all over Europe. Famous patients in later years were Albrecht Dürer, and Friedrich Schiller. It is assumed that Europeans brought malaria to North and South America.

At yovisto, you may be interested in the video lecture by Professor Snowden on Malaria at Yale University. He talks about the disease, its spread and its historical relevance for mankind.

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