MURFREESBORO, Tenn (WMOT) -- On this sixth annual World Malaria Day, a Tennessee historian recalls the little remembered connection between the deadly disease and the Tennessee Valley Authority.
Few Americans remember that malaria was once common in the U.S., or that the TVA played a crucial role in eradicating the mosquito-borne disease.
Historian Dan Klingensmith of Maryville College in East Tennessee recalls that TVA’s primary tasks were flood control and economic development, but the federal corporation was also instrumental in eliminating malaria in the American South by the early 1950s.
“This area used to be malarias. There used to malaria all over the South and the Midwest,” Klingensmith says. “I think TVA, among others, really did have a concrete contribution to pretty much eradicating malaria in the continental U.S.”
Klingensmith says one of TVA strategies was to disrupt the life-cycle of malaria carrying mosquitos by suddenly dropping water levels behind its dams to kill larva emerging at the water’s edge.
The World Health Organization notes that malaria is the fourth leading cause of death worldwide. WHO statistics show the disease killed approximately 655,000 people in 2010 alone.