119 Years of Trust Fact File THE TRIBUNE
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Saturday, April 17, 1999



Ronald Ross
By Illa Vij

RONALD Ross proved that malaria is transmitted by mosquitoes. He showed how the transmission takes place and also identified the particular kind of mosquito responsible for spreading the disease. He was also an able writer, poet and artist. Ronald’s father was an officer in the Indian British Army. He became a general and commanded with great skill and ability. He was also a skilful water-colour painter. Ronald’s mother belonged to a well-known family of lawyers. Ronald was born to them on May 13, 1857, at Almora in the Himalayan mountains, three days after the first War of Independence broke out.

At the age of Seven, Ronald was sent to England to begin his formal schooling. When he was 14 years old, he won a prize for mathematics. The prize was a book titled Orbs of Heaven. It was later that this book inspired Ronald to study mathematics in depth.

At the age of 16, Ronald was bracketed first in England in the Oxford and Cambridge local examination in drawing. He had made a pencil copy of Raphael’s painting titled Torchbearer, and that too in just a few minutes! His ambition was to become an artist, but his father wanted him to enter the Indian Medical Services. At the age of 17, Ronald entered the medical school at St Bartholomew’s Hospital in London. Yet, Ross continued to spend a lot of time composing music, modelling in clay and also wrote romantic verses.

Ronald cleared the examination that he took for gaining membership of Royal College of Surgeons in 1879. Next, he sat for the Apothecaries’ examination but could not pass it. This prevented him for taking the entrance examination for the Indian Medical Services. He then joined a ship as a surgeon and found plenty of time to read and write on subjects of his interest.

In 1881, Ronald reappeared for the Apothecaries’ examination and passed. Then he competed for the Indian Medical Services and qualified. His first appointment was at the station hospital in Madras. He thought a lot about the misery of India and also wrote poems regarding the same. His interest in literature, art and painting occupied most of his hours of leisure. He spent five years studying mathematics which he applied to the study of malaria. He worked on the mathematical theory of epidemics. It provided the basis for calculating the rate at which malaria spreads and the quantity of material and personnel required for checking the epidemic. In 1888, Ronald took leave and went to England. There, he did a diploma in public health. He met Rosa Blozan and married her in 1889. They returned to India and their first daughter was born in 1891 and the second one in 1903. On returning to India, Ronald began a serious study of mosquitoes and their larvae. Around the age of 37, he met Patrick Mason, who helped and supported him in the years ahead, which were totally taken up by research. The malaria parasite had been discovered by Lavern but it was not known whether it was transmitted through mosquito bites or by drinking water contaminated by infected larvae. Some also believed that it was due to polluted air arising from stagnant water. Ross laboured intensely, conducting all kinds of experiments and making the minutest of observations. He made careful notes and drawings. He discovered that out of the 2 mosquito species, the anopheles carried the parasite on the walls of its stomach. He showed how the transmission occurred. It was a great medical discovery because it not only helped in controlling malaria, but also other insect-borne diseases, such as yellow fever, sleeping sickness, typhus and plague. It took Ross about three years to complete his research. Along with his brilliant career, Ross also wrote many books. His literary works include The Emigrants, Edgar, The Judgement of Tithonus. His melancholy poems were compiled in Exile. His novel The Spirit of Storm was well received by the people.

Ross was elected a fellow of the Royal Society in 1902. A year later, he received the Nobel Prize for medicine.In 1926, the Ross Institute was founded by the people who admired him and he was made Director of the institute. Soon after, he suffered a paralytic stroke. Ronald’s wife Rosa died in 1931 and he passed away on September 16, 1932. back

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