Quinine, the precursor to anti-malaria drug and potential COVID-19 cure and preventative medicine hydroxychloroquine, was first discovered by Inca herbalists, who eventually shared this information with Jesuit priests in the early 17th century.
In a practice with no clear origin, Inca herbalists used chinchona bark, rich in quinine, to treat malaria. Eventually Spanish explorers were introduced to this tree bark and its uses very early in the 17th century, and soon brought it back to Europe to treat the illness beginning in the 1630s.
Inca herbalists would grind the tree bark into a powder, then make it into a drink, and give it to those suffering from malaria. Herbalists had likely been doing this for some time, as due the the geography of the Inca Empire, which was founded in 1438, it was likely an ever present threat. Even before the Inca Empire was founded, native peoples lived in Peru in organized societies since at least 900 B.C.
Until the 20th century, a fable suggested that the first two Europeans to be cured using quinine were the Viceroy of Peru and his wife in 1638, who were romantically saved by the substance. This was eventually proven to be false through closer examination of the story in the 1940s. It was, however, established that the chinchona tree was used to treat malaria around this time, and the plant was detailed in medical documents in the following century.
Regardless of the romantic story’s authenticity, use of quinine in Europe picked up in the 1630s. Jesuit priests were first credited for sending chinchona tree bark, and its quinine rich powder, to Europe in 1632. Cardinal John de Lugo, an eminent Spanish theologian of the era, went on to promote using the ground tree bark until his death in 1660.
As technology advanced, the safest and most useful compounds of quinine were broken down into what is now known as hydroxychloroquine. This was accomplished during World War II to treat soldiers suffering from malaria while fighting in Africa.
The drug is now being investigated for its potential usefulness in treating COVID-19, though the media and members of the medical establishment have repeatedly questioned its efficacy.
On Monday afternoon, however, a doctor went viral when speaking at the Frontline Doctors Summit in Washington, D.C. after claiming that hydroxychloroquine can not only cure COVID-19, but prevent it from spreading to vulnerable populations when used as a prophylactic.
“Nobody needs to get sick,” said Dr. Stella Immanuel. “This virus has a cure. It is called hydroxychloroquine, zinc, and zithromax.”