Mosquitoes and History
In 1801, Napoleon Bonaparte was reaching the peak of his power, and he was determined to recapture France’s lost empire in the Americas. He dispatched 30,000 troops to Hispaniola under the command of his brother-in-law, Charles Leclerc, with the goal of defeating the Haitian Revolution that had freed the island’s slaves in 1791 and deprived France of millions in sugar revenues.
Leclerc’s expedition faced little opposition when it landed. Outmatched Haitian troops quickly melted into the mountains and began preparations to fight a long guerrilla war. But the tide turned when the French were overwhelmed by yellow fever and malaria, two diseases against which they had no immunity. By the time the expeditionary force abandoned Haiti in 1803, only 3,000 soldiers remained.
The Leclerc expedition is just one example of the huge role that mosquitoes – and the diseases they transmit – have played in human history. The Hispaniola debacle helped establish Haiti as the second independent republic in the Americas (after the United States). It also put an end to Napoleon’s ambitions in the Americas. He soon sold the massive French territory of Louisiana, which spanned one million square miles of land between Canada and the Gulf of Mexico, to Thomas Jefferson. That event, in turn, would transform U.S. history.
Making Malaria History in Hispaniola
Two centuries later, we have a new opportunity to make history in Hispaniola. This time, the goal is to eliminate malaria from the island once and for all. Malaria was an unlikely ally of Haiti’s citizens in 1801, but it has imposed a heavy burden ever since.
Haiti had more than 25,000 confirmed cases of malaria in 2013, and malaria remains a leading cause of death and disability for Haitian mothers and children under five, two groups that are especially vulnerable to the disease. Malaria also imposes a significant economic burden both on Haiti and the Dominican Republic.
People who are infected with the malaria parasite are likely to suffer relapses that cause them to miss work and school, and periodic malaria epidemics can have a devastating impact on tourism, a mainstay of Hispaniola’s economy. In 2004, one malaria outbreak cost the Dominican Republic an estimated $200 million in lost tourism revenues.
Today, the Gates Foundation is pleased to announce that we are providing $29.9 million to the Haiti Malaria Elimination Consortium (HaMEC)] to achieve the elimination of malaria from Hispaniola by 2020. I am confident that HaMEC will reach this goal because this innovative partnership will bring together committed grassroots health workers with global experts in public health, led by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the CDC Foundation.
Other key HaMEC partners include the Pan American Health Organization, the Carter Center, the Clinton Health Access Initiative, the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, and Tulane University’s School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine.
If successful, HaMEC will mark the final step in eliminating malaria from the Caribbean. And a parallel effort to eliminate malaria from Central America will soon get underway with support from the Global Fund. This means that we could witness the elimination of malaria from every nation in North America within a decade.
How You Can Help
While the foundation’s contribution to HaMEC will help get operations underway, the total effort to eliminate malaria from Haiti is expected to cost about $80 million over five years, and the CDC Foundation is leading efforts to mobilize the required funds from other donors, including individuals and community groups.
To learn how you can support the effort to make malaria history in Hispaniola, visit the CDC Foundation here.