How Zambian Malaria Researchers at TDRC Ndola in the 1980s Influenced the History of Mefloquine

Africans have always been key to understanding malaria. Somali nomads told renowned British ethnologist Sir Richard Burton in 1856 that malaria was carried by mosquitoes, – which he dismissed as «a most ridiculous superstition» – 41 years before British doctor Ronald Ross won the Nobel prize for the «discovery». It is thus high time that African actors become the protagonists of scholarship on the history of malaria. In this paper, I focus on research conducted on the antimalarial agent mefloquine at the Tropical Disease Research Centre (TDRC) in Ndola, Zambia.

Between 1979 and 1983 there were phase I, II and III clinical trials with mefloquine in comparison to chloroquine in randomized double-blind studies. The TDRC Ndola was one of the first institutions of its kind that was led and run by locals. From 1982 to 1994 the Tropical Disease Research Program supported research, while the Zambian government funded the running costs. In the 1980s, TDR presented the institute as a role model for experts in tropical medicine from around the world who came to observe. Yet some employees were very critical of their work conditions, as archival documents at the WHO in Geneva show. In this paper, I will investigate what impact Zambian researchers had on malaria research related to mefloquine and how their knowledge circulated and influenced the global history of mefloquine.