Malaria and the Caribbean

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The effects of malaria in the Caribbean represent an important chapter of the history of the region, due to its effects on the colonization of the islands and the corresponding impact on society and economy.

During the early exploration of the Caribbean islands, there was no immunity of the local nativa population against diseases which were brought by European and African immigrants. Although the Caribbean today is considered “a tropical paradise”, the islands contributed a perfect level of moisture and heat to facilitate the spread of viral and bacterial organisms that led to the death of a large number of people. Because of the rare contact between races in the 15th century complete immunities were unable to be developed and those that were still caused some to be at least mildly affected by the disease.

For example, before this time of exploration and travel, the Caribbean natives of the islands had never been exposed to malaria. Therefore, when the Europeans and African slaves began to inhabit the islands, the natives were greatly affected by it and died in astonishing numbers. Due to their genetics, the African slaves had somewhat of an advantage over the white, wealthy settlers: partial immunity was present to falciparum malaria. This malaria affected children and immigrants on some islands but not all. One contracts this disease by being bitten by an Anopheles mosquito which can be found on Africa and the Americas. Falciparum malaria sickens the human by attacking the human’s red blood cells and the parasite remains within the victim’s body for life which allows the cycle to continue. This malaria affected predominantly the adult European voyagers rather than predominantly the African slaves.

The Caribbean countries whose inhabitants were the most affected were the Greater Antilles islands and other humid islands like Martinique and Trinidad and Tobago. Because Anopheles mosquitoes thrive mostly in areas of humidity and water, the disease was not found on islands such as the Bahamas and Antigua. Serving as somewhat of an enemy on the islands, malaria continued to attack the white settlers and prevent them from reaching their ultimate goals of exploration and wealth. The Creoles felt, in this way, that diseases such as malaria were prevention tools from their territories being invaded by Europeans.

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