[EDITORIAL NOTE: My apologies for no elder music today. The week got away from me and I ran out of time. So instead, here is a REFLECTIONS EXTRA: Malaria from Saul Friedman whose regular Reflections column will appear here next Thursday.]
[Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Saul Friedman (bio) writes the bi-weekly Reflections column for Time Goes By in which he comments on news, politics and social issues from his perspective as one of the younger members of the greatest generation. He also publishes a weekly column, Gray Matters, on aging for Newsday.
When I read that Saturday, April 25, had been designated World Malaria Day, it reminded me how and why the United States had succeeded in eradicating that parasitic scourge from this country by 1949. It was one of the most important, if unsung, triumphs of the New Deal.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, malaria was endemic in the 13 southeastern states until the late 1940s. Indeed, CDC's headquarters was placed in Atlanta partly because that part of the Old South was at the center of the malaria belt.
If during the early part of the 20th century, many southerners seemed slow, lazy and intellectually backward, much of the reason was malaria which infected nearly a third of the people, especially in rural areas. The malaria parasite caused anemia, fever, loss of energy and other debilitating ailments.
The attack on malaria in the American south began when the Tennessee Valley Authority drained the swamps as part of its project to bring public power, flood control, reforestation and recreation to the southeast. And the TVA, created in 1933, spent more money than any agency on malaria mosquito eradication. The TVA hired entomologists, doctors and malaria experts to help sharecroppers, black and white, fight the mosquito.
After the US. entered World War II, when southern training bases put GIs in danger, the U.S. Public Health Service joined in the eradication program. But the TVA had done most of the work. In 1949, the U.S. was declared free of malaria. This is something the Old Confederacy might remember these days.