There’s a disease out there that impacts approximately 228 million people annually and which has caused around 405,000 deaths to date. It’s a disease that is growing, and which is showing no signs of stopping. And no, it’s not the COVID-19 / Coronavirus — it’s malaria. And while the disease is terrible, the cure is actually quite delicious.
Let go back to the start… the British East India Company was founded on December 31st, 1600. The purpose of the company was to promote trade between India and the rest of the world, and would eventually lead to the colonization of India by the British.
For the next century, the British would continue to expand their numbers and their influence in the subcontinent only to be harried and confounded by a new disease that was native to those tropical locations. Malaria, caused by a parasite found in the saliva of mosquitos, would infect the humans it bites and cause flu like symptoms including a constant alternating cycle of fever and chills over the course of days and eventually death.
As early as the 1500s, Spanish doctors were aware that chewing the bark of specific cinchona trees would have a positive impact on reducing fever in patients, but it was only in the 1700s that a Scottish doctor named George Cleghorn figured out that a compound named quinine was present in the cinchona tree bark and was responsible for killing the parasites that caused malaria.
The miracle drug, quinine, was extracted from the cinchona tree bark and added to tonic water, creating the first cure for the disease. While it would help keep malaria at bay, the officers of the British East India Company disliked the bitter taste. So around the early 1800s, they started adding some gin (a traditional British distilled spirit) and a bit of lime to their tonic water. Now properly improved, the cocktail was a smash hit both for the lifesaving properties and the flavor.
The Gin & Tonic (or G&T) remains a popular drink to this day. Not all tonic waters contain quinine, but it still adds a distinctive flavor to the cocktail that is delicious and (when it includes quinine) potentially lifesaving.
Malaria remains a problem worldwide, and its eradication is one of the primary focuses of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The current COVID-19 Coronavirus is becoming just as big of a problem, requiring a worldwide effort and causing significant pain and damage.
While we all sit in our homes and wait for the medical professionals to come up with a cure for this novel disease, let’s raise a glass and toast the hard working scientists past and present who work tirelessly to end disease worldwide. And pray that whatever cure they come up with tastes just as good when mixed with gin.