Preventing malaria is a fundamental human rights issue

September 14, 2004

We must find better ways to end malaria in developing countries, says CORE
by Congress of Racial Equality
Statement for US House of Representatives Subcommittee on Africa
September 14, 2004

Distinguished Members of the Subcommittee and guests, we thank you for holding this important hearing on finding better ways to end the intolerable scourge of malaria in developing countries.

The United States and Europe eradicated malaria after World War II, using pesticides and other measures. We still spray to prevent West Nile virus and other diseases, and to protect our crops.

But today, 50 years later, malaria 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. Malaria has left this region economically devastated, with little hope for the future.

Heaven alone knows how many of these unfortunate people might have lived, if their countries had been able to control this mosquito-borne disease. How many succumbed to other diseases they would have survived if they didn’t also have malaria. How many survived, but with their cognitive development impaired, because they ended up with cerebral malaria. How many of these victims might have become the next Nelson Mandela, Yoweri Museveni, Abebe Bikila or Florence Wambugu.

This terrible toll could be dramatically reduced, with readily available means. In fact, it could have been dramatically reduced years ago. Instead, malaria rates have actually increased by 15 percent in the six years since 1998, when “Roll Back Malaria” pledged to bring them under control.

South Africa has proven beyond any doubt that we can win the war against this killer disease. In 2001, it reintroduced DDT for carefully monitored programs that spray tiny amounts of DDT once or twice a year on the eaves and inside walls of traditional mud and thatch huts. Used this way, there is virtually no chance that any DDT will get into the environment, much less harm wildlife.

Within 18 months, malaria rates plummeted by 80 percent. South Africa was then able to treat a much smaller number of seriously ill patients with the ACT drug Coartem. Through this two-pronged approach, it slashed malaria rates by more than 90 percent in just three years!

Why DDT? Because it is inexpensive – and it works. No other pesticide is effective for so long. And no other pesticide also repels mosquitoes from the entire home – and irritates them, so that they don’t even bite. No wonder other countries want to copy South Africa’s successful program.

How, then can this malaria catastrophe be destroying Africa today? It is doing so largely because the European Union, environmental pressure groups, the World Health Organization, UNICEF, and even our own U.S. Agency for International Development for years have deliberately substituted environmental ideology for science-based medicine.

They promote and provide financial assistance for drugs and bed nets that do little to reduce malaria. They spend inordinate amounts of money on contractors, reports, conferences and studies. They actively discourage use of the one weapon that does work: pesticides – especially DDT – that can bring real, immediate, incontestable benefits wherever they are employed. And they threaten to withhold healthcare and other funding from any nation that dares to defy them on pesticide use.

DDT is clearly not a magic bullet 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.

Let us repeat for emphasis: The United States and Europe used DDT and other pesticides to eradicate malaria in our own countries. We still use a wide variety of pesticides every day. And yet, we are telling countries whose people are sick and dying that they must not use DDT and other pesticides.

This stance is not just shortsighted. It is not just a distortion of science and medicine. It is not even merely hypocritical. It constitutes a deliberate, and unconscionable, failure of public policy.

The actions of these organizations, which our tax dollars heavily support, may be politically correct. But they are unethical, immoral and lethal. In fact, they are callous eco-manslaughter, devastating the lives of the poorest and most powerless people on our planet – in the name of protecting the environment from threats that are mostly exaggerated, and even imaginary.

These policies and actions violate these destitute nations’ right to ask for and receive the medicines and pesticides they need, so that they can take their rightful places among the Earth’s healthy and prosperous people. They violate the most basic human right of all: the right to life.

They represent the human tragedy – the intolerable human rights violations – of Darfour, Sudan spread across the whole of sub-Saharan Africa. Worst of all, they are the policies and actions of the United States of America – not of some foreign government over which we have no control.

Jurassic Park author (and PhD molecular biologist) Michael Crichton was absolutely correct when he told San Francisco’s Commonwealth Club: “Banning DDT is one of the most disgraceful episodes in the twentieth century history of America. 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 the tragedy in stark personal terms. “I’ve had malaria many times since I was little. I lost my son, two sisters and two nephews to malaria. Don’t talk to me about birds. And don’t tell 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.”

USAID Director Andrew Natsios took a forceful and courageous stand, during the Johannesburg Earth Summit, when he condemned efforts to prevent starving Africans from receiving American food aid, because some of the corn was genetically modified. We urge him to take a similar stand now, and act to end the human tragedy that his agency’s policies are helping to perpetuate.

We also call on all Members of this Subcommittee, the full Committee and our Congress to join with CORE in demanding an end to these indefensible, inhumane policies on malaria and pesticides. Our tax dollars, and America’s reputation, must no longer be squandered on such policies.

For all of us, it is a fundamental matter of compassion and human decency, which transcends religious, racial or political affiliations. For Africa, and malaria-stricken nations everywhere, it is truly a matter of life and death.

Thank you for giving us this opportunity to speak here today.