Korean Journal of Medical History (의사학), Vol.20(1) : 53~82, 2011
Although it is not certain when malaria began to appear in Korea, malaria is believed to have been an endemic disease from ancient times. It was Dr. H. N. Allen (1858-1932) who made the first description and diagnosis of malaria in terms of Western medicine. In his first year report (1885) of Korean Government Hospital he mentioned malaria as the most prevalent disease. Very effective anti-malarial drug quinine was imported and it made great contribution in treating malaria. After Japan had annexed Korea in 1910, policies for public health system were fundamentally revised. Japan assumed control of Korean medical institutions and built high-quality Western hospitals for the health care of Japanese residents. The infectious diseases which were under special surveillance were cholera, typhoid fever, dysentery, typhus, scarlet fever, smallpox, and paratyphoid fever. Among chronic infectious diseases tuberculosis and leprosy were those under special control. Malaria, however, was not one of these specially controlled infectious diseases although it was widely spread throughout the peninsula. But serious studies on malaria were carried out by Japanese medical scientists. In particular, a Japanese parasitologist Kobayasi Harujiro(1884-1969) carried out extensive studies on human parasites, including malaria, in Korea. According to his study, most of the malaria in Korea turned out to be tertian fever. In spite of its high prevalence, malaria did not draw much attention from the colonial authorities and no serious measure was taken since tertian fever is a mild form of malaria caused by Plasmodium vivax and is not so much fatal as tropical malaria caused by P. falciparum. And tertian malaria was easily controlled by taking quinine. Although the majority of malaria in Korea was tertian fever, other types were not absent. Quartan fever was not rarely reported in 1930s. The attitude of colonial authorities toward malaria in Korea was contrasted with that in Taiwan. After Japan had set out to colonize Taiwan as a result of Sino-Japanese war, malaria in Taiwan was a big obstacle to the colonization process. Therefore, a lot of medical scientists were asked to engage the malaria research in order to handle health problems in colonized countries caused by malaria. Unlike the situation in Taiwan, malaria in Korea did not cause a serious health problem as in Taiwan. However, its risk was not negligible. In 1933 there were almost 130,000 malaria patients in Korea and 1,800 patients among them died of malaria. The Japanese Government General took measures to control malaria especially during the 1930s and the number of patients decreased. However, as Japan engaged in the World War II, the general hygienic state of the society worsened and the number of malarial patients increased. The worsened situation remains the same after Liberation (1945) and during the Korean war (1950-53).