The U.S. Government has finally begun to reverse policy on the insecticide DDT. Let’s hope that this policy shift represents the beginning of the end of what can only be called a crime against humanity: the decades-old withholding of the world’s most effective anti-malarial weapon from billions of adults and children at risk of dying from the disease.
The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) told the Washington Times this week (May 3) that it endorses and will fund the indoor spraying of DDT in sub-Saharan Africa. Malaria kills more than one million Africans annually, mostly children under five and pregnant women.
Malaria accounts for 10 percent of Africa’s disease burden and causes $12 billion yearly in lost productivity.
USAID reportedly will use about 20 percent of its $99 billion budget to fund indoor spraying with DDT, according to the Times. “Between 1 million and 1.5 million people will be protected,” a USAID official told the Times.
There are, of course, many more millions of Africans that need protection from the mosquitoes that transmit the parasite that causes malaria, but USAID’s announcement represents a ray of hope compared to its previous policy which – as characterized by Robert S. Desowitz’s book entitled, Malaria Capers (Norton, 1992) – appeared to be that people in Third World malarial regions were “better dead than alive and riotously reproducing.”
The policy change is timely given a recent commentary published in the prestigious medical journal The Lancet (April 25) in which a number of researchers accuse the World Bank of deception and medical malpractice in the struggle against malaria.
The researchers charge that the World Bank reneged on its promise to spend $300 million to $500 million for malaria control in Africa; concealed the actual amount of its expenditures; reduced its staff of malaria experts from seven to zero shortly after promising to do more to fight the disease; published false epidemiological studies to exaggerate the performance of its projects; and funded clinically obsolete treatments, against the World Health Organization’s advice, for malaria in India.
Given that the World Bank’s defense amounted to “we are committed to learning from our shortcomings,” it seems clear that Africans would be better off with an effective anti-malarial tool like DDT, rather than the efforts of pathetically ineffective bureaucrats.
Roadblocks to the lifesaving use of DDT remain – mostly in the form of the modern environmental movement and its governmental subsidiary known as the European Union.
“Environmentalists are calling for the elimination of the toxic chemical, DDT, which is still used in large parts of Africa to combat malaria,” the Voice of America reported this week.
The EU recently put this policy into practice, for example, by threatening to impose a ban on agricultural exports from Uganda if that nation proceeded with its plan for indoor spraying of DDT, according to Paul Driessen, senior fellow at the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE).
“If the strict controls that should be put in place when DDT is used are not fully adhered to, and there is a risk of contamination of the food chain, [it] would not automatically lead to a ban of food products, but it will mean that that particular consignment cannot be sent to Europe,” said Tom Vens, an EU official in Uganda.
The Ugandans countered by maintaining that “DDT is not harmful to humans and if used for indoor-insecticide spraying, it’s the most effective and cheapest way to fight malaria,” according to Driessen.
The Ugandans have it right.
There never was any scientific evidence that DDT posed a risk to humans or wildlife. An EPA administrative law judge said as much after seven months and 9,000 pages of testimony about DDT in 1972. DDT wasn’t responsible for the decline in bald eagle populations, didn’t cause bird egg shell-thinning and didn’t cause cancer in humans, the judge determined.
DDT was nonethless banned in the U.S. when then-EPA administrator William Ruckleshaus reversed without explanation the decision of the judge who actually heard all the DDT testimony – Ruckleshaus heard none of it and never read any of the transcript. As it was later revealed, Ruckleshaus was a member of the Audubon Society and raised money for the Environmental Defense Fund – the two activist groups that led the charge for the DDT ban.
The fix was in for DDT, as environmental activists subsequently exported the ban to the rest of the world – with horrific consequences, including tens of millions killed and billions made ill by malaria over time.
It’s time for the malaria tragedy to end. A documentary by producer D. Rutledge Taylor, MD entitled, “3 Billion and Counting” – which will take “an in-depth look at the disease that has killed more people than any disease ever known” – is in the works and will be released later this year.
Let’s forget the myths about DDT – it’s time to stop malaria now.