Malaria Epidemics in Dembia, Northwest Ethiopia 1952 – 1953


  • Fantahun Ayele


Abstract Background: Malaria has been one of the deadliest killer diseases in Ethiopia. About 68 percent of the Ethiopian people are living in malaria prone areas. Most of these areas have been experiencing seasonal malaria epidemics. In 1952/53, Dembia district bordering Lake Tana in the north had experienced devastating malaria epidemics. Objective: The main objective of this study is to investigate the history of the 1952/53 malaria epidemic in Dembia and the scale of its devastation. Methods: The study uses a large number of untapped archival documents kept in Gondar to find out the extent of the epidemic that claimed the lives of thousands of people. Results: Thousands of people lost their lives in Dembia. Survivors were too weak to bury the dead. Corpses were left unburied and they were devoured by wild animals. Qolla Debba, the capital of Dembia district and the epicenter of the epidemic became a ghost town deserted by its residents. The countryside was equally devastated by the epidemic. Agricultural activities came to a standstill. Since the epidemic coincided with planting and harvesting seasons, it brought about incalculable damage on agricultural production. Conclusion: For the people of Dembia, the 1952/53 malaria outbreak was the most dreadful and disastrous epidemic in living memory. It caused innumerable human and material damage. Although the epidemic affected all age groups, its impact on the productive section of the population was felt strongly. Local officials dutifully reported mortality figures emphasizing on the severity of the epidemic. But the response from higher bodies was not satisfactory. Apart from sending small teams and limited anti-malarial drugs, the imperial government failed to mobilize human and material resources to effectively deal with the epidemic and save lives. It was only in the wake of that disaster that the government managed to build a health center at Qolla Debba partly through public contribution. [Ethiop. J. Health Dev. 2017;31(1):57-63] Key words: Dembia, malaria, epidemics, district, governor general




How to Cite

Ayele, F. (2017). Malaria Epidemics in Dembia, Northwest Ethiopia 1952 – 1953. The Ethiopian Journal of Health Development, 31(1). Retrieved from