Having won the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine in 1902, Ronald Ross is famous for his work concerning malaria. He was the one who discovered that the malaria parasite resided in the gastrointestinal tracts of mosquitos. Because of this, other scientists and doctors were able to deduce that mosquitoes spread the diseases and discovered ways to counter malaria. Because of his contribution as well as experience concerning malaria and other tropical diseases, he became the Director-in-Chief of the Ross Institute and Hospital for Tropical Diseases—an institute established to honor his works.
Early Life and Educational Background
Ronald Ross was the son of C.C.G. Ross who was a general of the English Army. He was brought to this world by his mother Matilda Charlotte Elderton and his birthplace was in Almora which is now Uttarakhand in India. Ronald was the eldest of the couple’s ten children and when he was eight, he had been sent to England where he lived with an aunt and uncle.
For his elementary education he went to Ryde and for his secondary learning he was sent in 1869 to one of the boarding schools in Springhill which is near Southampton. He was still just a boy when he developed a love for music, literature, poems, and mathematics. When he was 14, he was able to win a prize for an engagement in mathematics. A book called Orbs of Heaven was the one which woke up his interest in this field.
At a young age of 16, Ronald was able to secure a position to have an examination in the drawing exams for Oxford as well as for Cambridge. Because of his love for poems and literature, he initially wanted to be a writer but his path changed when he became a part of the St Bartholomew’s Hospital Medical College which was in London in 1874. He did this to follow his father’s preferences.
Since he was initially not fully committed to the path he has chosen, he spent a lot of his time writing plays, poems, and composing his own music. Despite this fact, he graduated in 1880 and a year before that, Ronald was able to pass the examinations for the Royal College of Surgeons of England.
Ronald Ross then worked as a ship surgeon and he first worked on a transatlantic steamship. At the same time, he was advancing his knowledge by studying to have the license for the Society of Apothecaries. On his first attempt, he wasn’t so lucky but during his second attempt in 1881, he was able to qualify and this allowed him to join the Army Medical School which made him a part of the Indian Medical Service. Not stopping at having gained a good educational experience, he even took a study leave in 1888 to 1889. He did this with the aim to obtain his Diploma in Public Health from the Royal College of Physicians and Royal College of Surgeons. To achieve this, he took a course about bacteriology and was taught by professor E.E. Klein.
It was in 1894 when he set his mind on determining how mosquitoes propagated malaria. It wasn’t easy for him because for two and a half years, he failed but after that, he was able to successfully demonstrate how the malaria bacteria resided in the mosquitoes’ gastrointestinal tract—this was what helped him establish Laveran and Manson’s hypothesis as a fact.
His research started while he was at Presidency General Hospital where he studied in his own bungalow at the Mahanad village. From time to time, he went around the village to collect mosquitoes with the help of the Indian scientist Kishori Mohan Bandyopadhyay. In 1883, Ross became the Acting Garrison Surgeon of Bangalore and it was then when he realized how they can control mosquitoes and the propagation of malaria by countering their means of propagation and limiting the mosquitoes’ access to water.
Interestingly, Ross was assigned to work at Sigur Ghat which was near Ooty, a hill station. Three days after he arrived, he had malaria and made the observation that there was a mosquito on the wall which had a strange posture. This mosquito was what he called as the “dappled wings” kind of mosquito. He was transferred to Secunderabad, and it was there he was able to culture some 20 brown mosquitoes which he later on infected from a patient’s blood. After the blood feeding, he then dissected the mosquitoes and this was where he was able to discover the presence of the malaria bacteria which stayed in the gastrointestinal tract of infected mosquitoes.
In 1895, he went to India once more and stayed in Madras, Burma, as well as the Andaman Islands. It was during the years 1882 and 1899 that he was working at Calcutta’s Presidency General Hospital. He stayed in India for a few years until he resigned in 1899 and went back to England where he then went to join the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine. There, he became a lecturer and made efforts to still help prevent malaria in other parts of the world like Cyprus, Mauritius, Africa, Greece, the Suez Canal, and other areas which were being negatively affected especially because of the First World War.
His dedication for fighting malaria was at a very high degree that he even established an organization to fight malaria specifically in Sri Lanka. Because of his efforts, both academically, and scientifically, he was promoted as the Professor and Chair of Tropical Medicine of the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine come 1902. This was a position which he held up until 1912. In 1912, Ross was appointed as London’s Physician for Tropical Diseases at King’s College Hospital. During this time, he was also the Chair of Tropical Sanitation in Liverpool. Up until 1917, Ross held these positions until he was an honorary consultant in Malariology in the British War Office. From 1918 to 1926, he was working as the consultant for malaria in the Ministry of Pensions and National Insurance.
He was married to Rosa Bessie Bloxam and they had two sons. He died because of a long-term illness coupled with asthma and was buried next to his wife in Putney Vale Cemetery.