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The pathogenic agent for malaria was discovered by Alphonse Laveran, a French military physician in Constantine, Algeria in 1880. In Algeria Laveran often performed necropsies on malaria victims. Numerous pigmented bodies and other bodies at the edge of which were moveable filaments or flagella were seen in their blood. The rapid and varied movement of these flagella indicated to Laveran that they must be parasites. He found such parasites in 148 out of 192 cases and concluded they were the cause of malaria. He called the parasiteOscilliaria malariae but the Italian namePlasmodium later won favour.
Laveran found that the pathological pigments could also be found in the brain, spleen, and liver of patients who had died from malaria. His work was not immediately accepted. In 1884 Laveran persuaded Pasteur and Emile Roux of the correctness of his views when a rare case of malignant malaria in a soldier in Paris gave him the opportunity to demonstrate the parasite. He suggested in 1884 that the vector was the mosquito but it was the work of Patrick Manson, Giovanni Grassi, and Ronald Ross which elucidated the life cycle of the parasite and the transmission of the disease by the anopheles mosquito. Ross, who discovered the malaria protozoa in the stomach wall and salivary glands of the anopheles mosquito in 1897, was awarded the Nobel prize for this discovery in 1902, 5 years before his teacher Laveran.
By early 1890 Laveran’s work brought him recognition from the leading scientific and medical societies of Paris as well as more broadly in the international scientific community, but the army military medical service did not acknowledge his contributions in the way that he had hoped. Deeply dissatisfied he resigned from the military medical service on 15 December 1896. The Pasteur Institute in Paris offered him laboratory space and independence, naming him Honorary Chief of Research. Laveran was a powerful influence in developing research in tropical diseases. With the trypanosomes he elucidated the life cycles and disease activities as well as therapeutic and prophylactic measures against the illnesses that they caused. He contributed particularly to the understanding of the transmission of sleeping sickness. He also studied the parasites of Leishmania. In 1884 Laveran publishedTraité des fièvres palustres, and won the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine in 1907, for demonstrating the role played by protozoa in causing disease. With the prize money he founded a laboratory of tropical medicine at the Pasteur Institute.
During the first world war, apart from being a member of a Commission on Hygiene and Prophylaxis, he organised preventive measures against malaria in areas where French troops would encounter the disease. In 1912 he was made Commander of the Legion of Honour. His medical colleagues appointed him Honorary Director of the Pasteur Institute in 1915 on his 70th birthday and President of the Academy of Medicine in 1920.
Laveran was honoured philatelically on a stamp issued by Algeria in 1954. Laveran is shown in a military uniform (Stanley Gibbons 327, Scott 252).