Thursday 27 January 2022

Black & White v.20 (1900)

"The Mosquito and Malaria are the deadly evils to be faced, and Sir William Macgregor, a scientist from the University of Aberdeen, who has admirably served the Empire all over the world, is determined to stamp them out. It all comes back to fever. 

Malaria is the most real and most critical matter in the white man's life in Lagos. 

Take the Government officials, for example : each of them at the end of twelve months' duty has to have six months' leave of absence in England (if he needs to be still alive) to recuperate, for none escapes of the scourge. Whilst on duty he is on an average laid aside for three months — that is to say, he does nine months' work and nine months' illness and convalescence in every eighteen months. This means two sets of officials to do one set's work, and continual payment of passage money to and fro. 

This is a heavy tax on the finances of the [Lagos] Colony, especially as the salaries paid are double those in healthy colonies to compensate the risk of death. What is true of the Government official is true of every white man in the colony.  To rid the colony of malaria would be to open up a new era for a valuable portion of the Empire. It is principally with a view to effecting this, if possible, that Sir William Macgregor is now over here— this and the botanical gardens, and the ticks and other things. 

At his own expense (ours is a niggardly Government) he has been visiting the tropical schools of medicine in Florence, in London and in Liverpool. Being a medical man, most of whose life has been spent in the malaria-infested corners of the earth, his opinions on the subject are of importance.  The theorists, he says, are too sanguine. In Italy they told him malaria would soon be as rare as the black-death : in England they say that in future a man with malaria should be punished as a criminal, as it will only be through negligence that he will get the disease. 

But in both cases their conclusions are deduced from faulty premises. You must know that it is now an accepted fact that malarial microbe can only be communicated to man by the mosquito : it cannot be spontaneously generated in his system, nor can one man infect another directly ; nor can the mosquito originate the germ —it must first derive it from a malarial patient. 

In the mosquito the germ is developed in such a way that the malignant microbe is produced. From this it will be obvious that if a microbe never bites a man, that man can never get malaria ; and if a microbe never comes across a malarial patient, it can never get germs with which to infect people. 

To stamp out malaria then, you must either stamp out mosquitoes, or stop them biting anyone. The first alternative will be the easier in some colonies, but not in Lagos, which, as Sir William Macgregor said to a representative of Black and White, " was designed by nature as an ideal breeding ground for the mosquito, and has been extensively improved for this purpose with great ingenuity and assiduous energy by man." 

Now, in the precautions which the experts have devised for making the second alternative possible, they lose sight of — in fact were quite unaware of — two important facts : first, that mosquitoes in Lagos bite freely by day, and, secondly, that the native there is not immune from either mosquitoes or malaria. 

The expert's idea is to protect the healthy white man at night from mosquitoes, and isolating the malarial patient in a mosquito-proof ward. In this way no diseased mosquito, they say, will get a chance to infect the healthy man, and the malarial patients will not be able to infect the mosquitoes. 

But Sir William avers that the native malarial patient will still supply the mosquito with germs, and the mosquito will still be able to hand it over to its white victim at his work. So that the disappearance of malaria from the earth is not yet within sight, in Sir William Macgregor's opinion, and he is probably in a better position to judge of the matter than any other man living. He does hope, however, to minimise it in Lagos to such an extent that it will no longer be the dread scourge it now is. 

And this is how he will set about it. First, he will tackle the mosquitoes themselves, and make Lagos a less desirable nursery for them, at any rate in the vicinity of human habitation ; secondly, he will also render life in a human being's abode almost as unpleasant, not to say dangerous, for them as they have previously made it for him. 

In addition, he will introduce all the experts' precautions : and, lastly, he has one of his own. To effect the first of these four objects, he will himself personally inspect every town and village, go along the whole length of the rail way line, and all over every individual house along it. 

One of his subordinates will go with him, and along the railway also a responsible official of the railway company. Wherever he finds a place where mosquitoes can breed — a clay-pit formed by getting material to build houses, a natural depression in the ground which can hold rain-water, an excavation made in the building of the railway, an unprotected cistern, an uncovered rain-water pipe, or a water-butt without a lid, and so on - he will himself give specific instructions in each case as to how it is to be dealt with, going into every detail as to the fittings of covers and the filling in of pits. 

At the end of a given time he will make another similar visitation with the same two officials, and if he find a single neglect of his instructions it will be a case of " off with his head " for the responsible party. 

To teach mosquitoes to keep out of men's houses, Sir William Macgregor is going to get an expert chemist to prepare a form of fumigating cone prepared from chrysanthemum seed, the smoke of which stupefies a mosquito and so prevents his biting. An atmosphere of tobacco smoke will kill a mosquito outright, but it would also—when dense enough to kill a mosquito at large in a room—probably kill a man, too, if he managed to go to sleep in it. The next best fumigant is this chrysanthemum powder, which is rather pleasant than otherwise to sleep in. It is true it only stupefies the mosquito, but if always used it will put an end to its biting, and that is the great thing. Sir William at once saw an opportunity to kill two birds with one stone. 

At present, chrysanthemum powder for this purpose is all grown in Hungary, and the pastilles manufactured in Italy. He cannot see why he should not do both the growing and the manufacturing on the spot, especially as with the increase all over the world of repressive measures against the mosquito, the demand will probably be great, and the industry may become a large and remunerative one. 

The pastilles will be sold almost at cost price to the natives of Lagos. In order to introduce the precautions of the experts, Sir William Macgregor is taking out with him a master carpenter, a master tinsmith, and a large supply of the wire gauze prescribed by the specialists in the schools of tropical medicine. 

By means of these he will provide every white official in the colony with at least one mosquito-proof room in his quarters for use after dark, and will also institute a number of mosquito-proof wards in all infirmaries.

At the same time natives will be apprenticed to the carpenter and the tinsmith, and will learn (and spread the knowledge of) how to make and fit the mosquito doors and shutters, and how to manufacture the wire gauze with which the doors and shutters and windows will all be fitted. This educational aspect of the carpenter and tinsmith leads up to Sir William's own method of waging war against malaria, namely, by teaching the people all there is to be known about it, and how to guard against it.

Having picked the brains of the experts in Europe, he will add his own experience and impart the result to the medical officers of the colonies, many of whom are natives ; the medical officers will give courses of lectures and subjects which all school teachers will be bound to attend, and will, later on, be examined on.

When every teacher in the colony is well grounded in mosquitoes, microbes, and malaria, " the three M's " will be made to rank with "the three R's" in the ordinary school curriculum of the [immature] native, and the Government grant to the schools will be made to depend as much on the former as on the latter.

It is a most interesting experiment that Sir William Macgregor is initiating, and if it prove only partially successful he will go down to posterity as one of the greatest benefactors the British Empire has ever known ; for to control malaria will open up vast territories to the white man, vast territories richly dowered by Nature and hitherto jealously guarded by her against progress."

By Kehinde Thompson

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