The Unecessary Scourge

April 12, 2004

by Paul K. Driessen
April 2004

“My friend’s four-year-old child hasn’t been able to walk for months because of malaria,” Ugandan farmer and businesswoman Fiona “Fifi” Kobusingye says softly. “She crawls around on the floor. Her eyes bulge out like a chameleon, her hair is dried up, and her stomach is all swollen because the parasites have taken over her liver. Her family doesn’t have the money to help her, and neither does the Ugandan government. All they can do is take care of her the best they can, and wait for her to die.”

Malaria is also a personal tragedy for this courageous and eloquent woman. It has killed her son, two sisters and two nephews. Now she means to turn her tragedy into a crusade, to rid Uganda and Africa of this killer disease. It will not be an easy task.

Few Americans can begin to comprehend the horror and scope of this disaster. Malaria infects 300,000,000 people a year — and kills 2,000,000. Most are in sub-Saharan Africa. Over half are children. Malaria control costs Africa, India, Latin America and other affected areas billions of dollars annually, depleting other health and environmental programs.

The disease leaves victims so weak that they cannot work, go to school, care for their families or cultivate their fields, for weeks or months on end. It is no wonder that central Africa, where malaria is most prevalent, is also the most destitute region on this impoverished continent.

A major reason for this epidemic and its devastating consequences is a near-global restriction on the production, export and use of DDT. The restrictions result from intense pressure by ideological environmentalists and threats by the United Nations, European Union, foundations and aid agencies to cut foreign aid or curtail trade with any nation that uses the insecticide.

Of course, none of these activists, bureaucrats or politicians have to worry about malaria killing them or their families. They can afford their viewpoints about malaria and pesticides. Their nations eliminated malaria decades ago, using the same pesticides (including DDT) that they now deny to Africa, Asia and Latin America.

Nothing currently works better for fighting malaria than DDT. It’s affordable (other pesticides cost 4 to 6 times more), and that’s important for impoverished nations. It’s long lasting. A single spraying retains its potency for at least six months, meaning more dangerous pesticides do not have to be applied more often. And mosquitoes are far less likely to build resistance to DDT than to other pesticides, which are still used heavily in agriculture.

Sprayed in tiny amounts on walls of traditional African homes, it repels mosquitoes for six months or more. It kills any that land on the walls, and disorients those it does not kill or repel. Where DDT is used, malaria cases and deaths plummet. Where it is not used, they skyrocket.

South Africa saw that first-hand not long ago, report Richard Tren and Roger Bate of the health advocacy group Africa Fighting Malaria. The country stopped using DDT in 1996, after malaria rates had fallen below 8,000 a year. Within two years, the rates had shot up to 65,000 cases. But within 18 months after Pretoria reintroduced this miracle pesticide, the disease and death rate had plunged by nearly 80 percent.

Despite rampant, far-fetched claims straight out of a Stephen King novel, DDT is not carcinogenic or harmful to humans. Used properly, it is safe for the environment, and minor ecological risks that might exist pale in comparison to human health benefits.

DDT History
During World War II, DDT was sprayed on Allied troops, protecting them from malaria and typhus, and saving tens of thousands of lives. After the war, concentration camp survivors and Italian and German citizens were also sprayed with the pesticide. In the 1950s, DDT helped eradicate malaria and typhus in the United States, Europe, Canada, Australia and other countries. No ill effects were ever demonstrated, but no one talks any longer about spraying people.

Rachel Carson helped launch modern environmentalism and the anti-pesticide crusade with her book, Silent Spring. At the time, DDT was used in near-massive quantities to control agricultural pests and exterminate disease-carrying flies and mosquitoes. Ms. Carson postulated that these chemicals would kill off America’s raptors and songbirds, leaving us with only a silent spring. However, even as her book was being published, robin and other songbird populations were actually increasing, and subsequent studies failed to substantiate her alarmist predictions.

Nevertheless, the Natural Resources Defense Council (which also sponsored the infamous Alar scare), Greenpeace, the Pesticide Action Network, World Wildlife Fund, Physicians for Social Responsibility and other pressure groups still insist that pesticides in general, and DDT in particular, are terribly toxic to wildlife. Along with the United Nations Environmental Program, they do all they can to prevent the use of DDT and other pesticides.

Hollywood elites and big donors like the Ford, Pew, MacArthur and Schumann foundations support these groups with tens of millions of dollars a year. The World Health Organization refuses to prescribe, recommend or fund the use of any pesticide, and is particularly opposed to DDT.

Instead, they all promote drugs and insecticide-treated bed nets. These methods do help reduce malaria rates. However, they are expensive, hard to get and only partially effective. In fact, for some 20 years or more, the malaria parasite has been so immune to two of the cheapest and most-prescribed anti-malarial drugs, chloroquine and SP, as to render them virtually worthless. As to bed nets, while they certainly do help at night, if maintained and used properly, they are of no value during prime mosquito hours for people who are still working or moving about their homes and villages.

And still the WHO, supposedly the developing world’s primary healthcare provider, refuses to alter its stance — and the US Agency for International Development claims it can’t support or fund DDT use, because the WHO opposes it, and the United States no longer permits its use.

However, former Environmental Protection Agency Administrator William Ruckelshaus banned the pesticide in 1972 primarily for political reasons, bowing to NRDC-generated pressure — and in the face of extensive scientific evidence that DDT was not responsible for bird deaths, thin eggshells or harm to humans. As he said later, “I didn’t ban DDT because of the science. It was a political decision.”

But of course, our country had already eradicated malaria — along with yellow, dengue and typhoid fevers — and could afford to do without DDT. Yellow fever had claimed 19,000 lives in Memphis alone in 1878. Malaria outbreaks in states as far apart as Alaska, Louisiana, Virginia and Wisconsin had claimed thousands of lives in recurrent epidemics over our history. And typhus had also been a big killer. But all had been eliminated from our nation, and our consciousness, by 1972 — thanks in large part to DDT. The developing world isn’t so lucky.

Even worse, as the British medical journal Lancet noted in a January 2004 report, WHO and USAID have continued to recommend, fund and provide supposedly anti-malarial drugs that they have known for years are no longer effective in preventing or treating this disease. No one knows how many people have died believing the drugs were effective, because WHO or USAID had provided them — but the number is doubtless in the thousands.

The consequence is horrible, totally foreseeable and unconscionable. Hundreds of thousands of children and parents are dying every year who would live, if their countries could also use DDT — spraying it in tiny quantities on the walls of homes, just once or twice a year, under carefully conducted “indoor residual spraying” programs.

Niger Innis, national spokesman for the Congress of Racial Equality, and others have condemned the anti-DDT policies as reckless medical malpractice — and eco-manslaughter. They are not alone.

Jurassic Park author (and PhD molecular biologist) Michael Crichton has said, “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.”

The New York Times editorialized in December 2002: 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.”

Recently, 20/20 host John Stossel of ABC News said: “Because of America’s hysteria about chemicals, much of the world won’t use DDT. And by the time this TV show is over, malaria will have killed another hundred children.” Greenpeace co-founder Patrick Moore puts it bluntly: “The environmental movement has lost its objectivity, morality and humanity.”

The world’s malaria victims will not be saved by bed nets, defective drugs, eco-imperialist moralizing or vague promises of “miracle drugs” that are “just around the corner” — perhaps in 15 or 20 years, after another 30 million people have died.

They need DDT, and they need it now. Millions of lives are at stake.