Senate Foreign Relations Committee studies malaria and pesticides

October 14, 2004

Two of the world’s foremost experts on malaria and other infectious diseases testified on October 6, 2004, before the US Senate Committee on Foreign Relations (Kansas Senator Sam Brownback presiding), on: “Neglected diseases in East Asia: Are public health programs working?” Robert Desowitz, Emeritus Professor of Tropical Medicine and Medical Microbiology at the University of Hawaii, and Donald Roberts, Professor of Tropical Public Health at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, both emphasized the limited utility of bed nets, and the need to reinstate DDT and other pesticides as an central component of any truly integrated and effective program to combat malaria.

Dr. Anne Peterson, Assistant Administrator for Global Health, US Agency for International Development, also testified – and claimed “insecticide-treated nets are the most practical and effective means for protecting the largest percentage of populations” at risk from malaria. Desowitz and Roberts vogorously disagreed with her assertions. Peterson’s agency refuses to fund or support the use of pesticides.

Said Desowitz: “DDT … remains the unique insecticide by virtue of its long residual activity (up to 6 months), its safety for humans and its dirt-cheapness…. Pilot studies [of insecticide treated nets] have resulted in a 30% reduction in malaria-caused mortality. Other pilot studies have show little or no effect, and in a few studies mortality has actually risen.” Why USAID and other “healthcare” agencies seem satisfied with a 30% reduction – when they could achieve an 80% or 90% reduction by adding DDT and other insecticides to their anti-malaria arsenal – remains an unanswered question.

Roberts noted that malaria rates have risen significantly in every country that has ceased using DDT, but remained under control in nations that continued using the insecticide. He shot holes in claims that bed net use in Vietnam had resulted in a “success story” for malaria control and stated bluntly that “replacing spraying with nets defies a fundamental lesson of preventive medicine: The least desirable preventive measure for reducing [risk of disease] is reliance on personal protective measures,” such as nets.

The Congress of Racial Equality issued a statement and press release emphasizing that the USAID’s and WHO’s failure to employ all available means to combat malaria – including DDT and other pesticides – has resulted in millions of needless deaths and serious human rights violations.