Malaria has been intertwined with the human condition for thousands of years, but until just 400 years ago was untreatable. If not for the Jesuits, we may not have had the cure for Malaria.
In the early 17th century, Jesuit missionaries from Spain and Portugal settled across South America to evangelize the indigenous populations. Sometime between 1620 and 1630, Jesuit Brother Agostino Salumbrino from Lima observed the Quechua Indians of Peru using Cinchona bark powder to reduce the shaking effects caused by severe chills when cold.
While the Quechua Indians didn’t use Cinchona bark powder as a treatment for malaria, the Jesuits discovered that it was an effective treatment never the less. After a Jesuit priest was saved from the disease by the bark powder, it was recommended to treat the Countess of Chinchón in 1630, who had recently arrived from Europe and had taken ill of Malaria in Lima.
In 1632, Jesuit Bernabé Cobo brought the Cinchona plant with him on a trip to Europe and introduced it to European medicine as a cure for malaria called Jesuit’s bark. He first brought it back to Spain, then to Rome and other parts of Italy before it quickly became commonplace throughout Europe. Jesuit theologian and cardinal John de Lugo in 1643 pioneered its early usage as a treatment for the endemic malaria caused by marshland surrounding Rome.
Just 80 years later since its introduction by Cobo, Jesuit’s bark was established as the official treatment for malaria within the medical community: Italian physician Francesco Torti wrote in 1712 that “intermittent fever” was only amenable to Jesuit’s bark.
In the 17th and 18th centuries, Jesuit missionaries also brought Cinchona bark powder with them as they traveled to China and Japan, where they used it to cure the Emperor of Japan.
The chemical component of Cinchona responsible for treating malaria is quinine, the same used to make tonic water. Not only do we have Jesuits to thank for the cure for malaria, but also gin and tonic.