Urging support for pesticides to control malaria
by Roy Innis
Congress of Racial Equality (CORE)
President George W. Bush
The White House
Washington, DC 20500
Dear President Bush:
There is no more important human right than to live. Without life, all other human rights are irrelevant. Somehow, America’s and the world’s malaria control agencies often forget this. Somehow, in too many cases, they seem to let politically correct ideologies supersede basic humanitarian goals.
We urgently implore you to restore science, medicine and human rights as the cornerstone of our malaria control policies, and ensure that government policies safeguard the children and parents of Africa, Asia and Latin America against this devastating disease. Please –
- Ask the Senate and House Majority and Minority Leadership to hold hearings to examine U.S. programs and appropriations that affect the treatment of malaria; review U.S. scientific and medical policies and practices; and ensure that taxpayer funds and U.S. policies encourage the use of new artemisinin-based drugs, pesticides like DDT and other measures that work.
- Reduce, abolish or modify the USAID’s ineffective malaria program, and redirect budgeted funds for this program to the Global Fund for the Prevention of AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, which in the past year has demonstrated markedly improved effectiveness in controlling malaria.
- Instruct U.S. government agencies to encourage, promote and fund ACT and pesticide use, when requested by the health minister or other officials in developing countries, to combat malaria.
- Reduce, redirect or eliminate funding for any agency or organization that delays, obstructs or fails to support and fund the use of DDT or other pesticides, or exerts anti-pesticide pressure on any African or other developing country that seeks to employ DDT in malaria control programs – including the U.S. Agency for International Development, World Health Organization, World Bank, UNICEF and United Nations Environment Program.
If you take these small steps, you will quickly help to bring hope, health and life to millions.
The United States and Europe eradicated malaria after World War II, using pesticides and other measures. But today, this vicious killer still infects 300,000,000 people every year in developing countries – more than live in the entire United States. It kills as many as 2,000,000 every year – the population of Houston, Texas: another father, mother or child every 15 seconds. Nearly 90 percent of these victims are in sub-Saharan Africa, and the vast majority are children and pregnant women.
Since 1972, at least 50 million people have died from malaria. Heaven alone knows how many might have lived, if their countries had been able to control this mosquito-borne disease – how many might have become the next Nelson Mandela, Yoweri Museveni, Abebe Bikila, Pelé, Mahatma Gandhi, Condoleeza Rice, Florence Wambugu, Booker T. Washington or George Washington Carver.
Those victims the disease does not kill, it leaves so weak that they cannot work, go to school, care for their families or cultivate their fields – often for weeks on end. Malaria leaves other people so weak that they die of AIDS, and from typhus, dysentery, tuberculosis and other diseases they’d often survive if they didn’t also have malaria. It depletes these countries’ limited medical resources, and plays a major role in making sub-Saharan Africa the most destitute region on that impoverished continent.
This terrible toll could be dramatically reduced – relatively quickly and easily, compared to HIV/AIDS – using readily available medicines, pesticides and other methods. We are thus perplexed, and troubled, that aid and healthcare agencies have failed to take the necessary steps, and in many cases have actually obstructed those who want to take the necessary steps.
For years, the World Health Organization, United Nations, UNICEF, World Bank and U.S. Agency for International Development have promised to bring this killer disease under control. In 1998, the WHO-UN-World Bank’s “Roll Back Malaria” campaign pledged to cut malaria disease and death rates in half by 2010. Instead, the rates have actually increased by 15 percent in the six years since the pledge was made.
How is this possible? It is the result of deliberately substituting environmental ideology for science-based medicine. These agencies have promoted and provided financial assistance for drugs and bed nets that often do little to reduce malaria. They spend inordinate amounts of money on contractors, reports, conferences and studies. They have discouraged the use of pesticides that often bring real, immediate, incontestable benefits wherever they are employed.
Insecticide-treated bed nets are helpful. But they are expensive, the pesticides have to be reapplied frequently, many people fail to use them regularly, and they are of no value for people who are working around their homes at dawn and dusk, amid swarms of hungry mosquitoes.
The most commonly prescribed drugs are no longer effective. Thankfully, the Global Fund is finally placing greater emphasis on new artemisinin-based combination therapy or ACT drugs. But these more expensive drugs are in short supply, and it is nearly impossible to get them to 300 million patients in countries where transportation and medical systems are poor to nonexistent.
What all malaria control agencies must do – but thus far have refused to do – is support and encourage the use of pesticides, including DDT, as an integral part of their anti-malaria programs.
South Africa used DDT for years to control malaria. However, in 1996, it bowed to environmentalist pressure and switched to synthetic pyrethroids. When malaria cases and deaths skyrocketed, the government reintroduced DDT for carefully monitored programs that spray small amounts of DDT once or twice a year on the eaves and inside walls of traditional mud and thatch huts. Within 18 months, malaria rates plummeted by 80 percent. The country was then able to treat a much smaller number of seriously ill patients with the ACT drug Coartem – and through this two-pronged approach (and the use of bed nets) slashed malaria rates by more than 90 percent in just three years!
Other countries want to copy this successful program. But environmental groups are pressuring them not to use DDT, and are seeking a global ban on this and other life-saving pesticides. European nations threaten to halt the import of agricultural products, if even a trace of DDT is found on any of them. The WHO and Roll Back Malaria refuse to fund pesticide programs and at times have hinted that they will penalize countries that use insecticides. The USAID refuses to fund any pesticides and continues to pressure countries to rely primarily on bed nets and not use life-saving DDT.
Clearly, DDT is not a magical potion that – by itself or in all situations – can slash malaria rates, and bring health and prosperity to Africa and other countries where this killer disease is still epidemic. Bed nets, ACT drugs, mosquito larvicides, other pesticides, education, modern homes with screens, and better public health systems are also essential. However, DDT is a vital weapon in the war against malaria, and strong American leadership now will bring immediate benefits, and save millions of lives.
Used to spray homes in the worst malarial areas, DDT repels mosquitoes for six months or more, kills any that land on the walls, and disorients or irritates those it does not kill or repel, so they don’t bite. Virtually no other pesticide has this “triple action” feature. Malaria-carrying mosquitoes are less likely to build immunities to DDT than to other pesticides, which are still used heavily in agriculture. Equally important, the pesticide is not carcinogenic or otherwise harmful to humans; and used in household spraying programs, virtually none will get into the environment.
Simply put, DDT helps ensure that bed net, drug therapy and other programs work properly – thereby saving millions of lives over the coming years, without harming people or the environment.
It is shortsighted, immoral and inhumane for wealthy, malaria-free countries to prevent African and other nations from using this pesticide to save their people’s lives. The British medical journal Lancet and numerous infectious disease experts fully support our position on DDT.
The New York Times said in a December 22, 2002 editorial: The developed world “has been unconscionably stingy in financing the fight against malaria or research into alternatives to DDT. Until one is found, wealthy nations should be helping poor countries with all available means – including DDT.”
“There is no charitable way to put it,” said the Washington Times in an April 17, 2004 editorial. “Children are dying, while Westerners worry about fictitious environmental effects. Aid agencies need to drop their opposition to the use of DDT in Africa and encourage the countries now considering using it, to do so.” The Chicago Sun-Times took a similar position a few days later.
Jurassic Park author (and PhD molecular biologist) Michael Crichton was even more blunt: “Banning DDT is one of the most disgraceful episodes in the twentieth century history of America,” he said in a September 2003 speech. “We knew better, and we did it anyway, and we let people around the world die, and we didn’t give a damn.”
Ugandan businesswoman Fiona Kobusingye puts this horrendous situation in stark personal terms. “I’ve had malaria many times since I was little,” she says. “I lost my son, two sisters and two nephews to malaria. Don’ttell me a little DDT in our bodies is worse than the risk of losing more children to this disease. African mothers would be overjoyed if that were their biggest worry.”
In our view, the continued failure to support the use of DDT (and other pesticides) in malaria control programs ignores the abject failure of current policies. It reflects a serious lapse in ethics and an appalling lack of compassion for the world’s most impoverished and disease-ridden people.
We can no longer stand idly by, and allow aid agencies, “healthcare” organizations, environmental activists, charitable foundations and wealthy nations to prevent its use, or threaten reprisals against any nation that does use it. We can no longer avert our eyes, and ignore the millions of anguished mothers, fathers and children who are struck down by this horrible disease every year.
The simple actions we urge you to take will safeguard the human rights of malaria patients, and foster the political will needed to overcome entrenched misconceptions and mindsets. They will help ensure that U.S. policies protect malaria victims the same way we protect American citizens from threats that affect only a tiny fraction of those felled each year by malaria.
On behalf of hundreds of millions of parents and children in countries where malaria continues to take a terrible, unnecessary and intolerable toll, we thank you for taking a leadership role in helping to make this a humanitarian effort that transcends religious, racial or political affiliations.
Roy Innis, National Chairman