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Wellcome Film of the Month: Malaria

26 Apr, 2011

Yesterday was World Malaria Day and we thought we’d mark the occasion by highlighting some videos about the disease from our archive.

Mosquitoes and malaria, 1988 is one of the Moving Image & Sound department’s definitive films on the subject. The audience for many of the films in Moving Image and Sound has tended historically towards professionals in the field and this film made by a team of Wellcome Foundation Film Unit stalwarts (Dr Len Goodwin with cinematography by the late Douglas Fisher) is unashamedly technical in nature; explaining how to detect the presence of malaria parasites in mosquitoes.

In fact. two films are cunningly fused together in this one title: extracts from an earlier title from 1953, Dissection of a mosquito for malaria parasite have been sourced in order to illustrate the ‘traditional’ and somewhat laborious method (minute mosquito legs and wings are amputated, the evidence studied by sight alone under microscopes). The modern enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (or ELISA) method for detecting malaria sporozoites and oocysts in female Anopheles mosquitoes are then shown in detail. The impact of this technique relates to epidemiologists’ ability to understand the degree of infection in an area where the mosquitoes are collected (and presumably plan accordingly). ELISA is a biochemical technique and has been used to test for HIV and in the detection of illegal drugs usage. However, some controversy does surround the interpretation of the division between what constitutes a positive and a negative result.

Other films about malaria in the Wellcome Film collection: 

Private Snafu vs. Malaria Mike, 1944 is a Warner Brothers film made for the US army. Using the might of Hollywood in its propaganda efforts (Mel Blanc who voiced Bugs Bunny and Dr Seuss, aka Theodore Geisel, as supervising producer), it was one of a series aimed at military personnel; providing information about how easily malaria can be contracted. The eponymous hero, Snafu makes a catalogue of errors such as not using repellent. At the end, the mosquito tells his son what he did in the war – with Snafu’s scalp hanging on the wall.

DDT versus malaria: a successful experiment in malaria control by the Kenya Medical Department, 1946 is a film with a complex provenance. It shows film footage of the campaign to check a malaria epidemic in the Kipsigis tribal reserve in Kenya by spraying village huts with DDT. It shows very sick villagers suffering from malaria with everyday life almost at a standstill. It was decided that the film could also be used for propaganda purposes and so several narrative elements have been fictionalised in the film (which is rather stilted and jarringly patronising in places).

Wellcome’s involvement in tropical medicine is well-documented in our collection. The Story of the Wellcome Foundation, 1955, is an ‘industrial’ film, shot in colour with an upbeat tone, communicating the optimism of the era. Research into malaria is revealed as beginning as early as 1901 and the film shows an image of Wellcome’s floating laboratory on the Nile. The Wellcome Building in the mid-1950s is shown to be a hive of activity at the cutting edge of research into the quest for cures for many debilitating and life threatening tropical diseases – many of which are still being pursued by Wellcome Trust-funded scientists today.

Find out more about malaria research on the Wellcome Trust Malaria website.

You can learn about the Wellcome Film project here. If you would like to make use of this archive footage in your own projects, please visit the Wellcome Library catalogue to download the original files, which are distributed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Non-Commercial 2.0 UK: England & Wales licence.

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