What the manager can learn from “mala aria”

January 9, 2014

I remember very well when I was teaching biology to “O” Level students in schools, I had to explain how the protozoa, Plasmodium was transmitted by the Anopheles mosquito to humans through the mosquito bites. Plasmodium causes malaria which can be a deadly disease. In 1897/1898 Ronald Ross discovered that mosquitoes transmitted malaria between human hosts. He won a Nobel Prize for this discovery in 1902. Malaria is still a deadly in the world today. A group of Tanzanian government officials in my training class asked me to recommend mosquito repellents to them since the burning of mosquito coils caused fires in their homes.

Way back before 1880, the mechanism of transmission was not known yet nor did people anything about infectious disease agents like bacteria, viruses or the single-celled protozoan which caused malaria. The ancient Greeks and Romans believed that it was the air itself that caused the infection. Thus the word “malaria” comes from Italian, “mala aria” which literally translates to “bad air”. Today we know that malaria is not an airborne disease. The protozoan which causes malaria was not discovered until 1880 when Charles Louis Alphonse Laveran observed the parasites in a patient; it was a few years later,

The Romans as mentioned above traced malaria to be caused by swampy, marshy areas where the air smelled bad. So they drained the swamps and disease subsided.

Does this mean that there is a correlation between malaria and swamp air? A missing link exists in the causal chain that brought about malaria. We know today that Plamodium was transmitted by Anopheles mosquitoes which breed in stagnant water in the swamps.

The lesson managers can learn: The importance of examining the other parts in a process, rather focusing on one cause. It is very easy to jump to cause in view of time constraints and producing an quick answer to the demanding boss.

 

 

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