Getting it right...and wrong

18 Jun 2010
Africa Fighting Malaria
Two recent articles in TIME get it right...and wrong:

In the article The Battle for Global Health: Battling a Scourge, published June 10, Alex Perry writes, "Spraying houses with insecticide — which in 2008 cut malaria infections in half — is also forbidden. Why? Because of objections from Uganda's organic-cotton farmers, who supply Nike, H&M and Walmart's Baby George line. Chemical-free farming sounds like a great idea in the West, but the reality is that Baby Omara is dying so Baby George can wear organic." While the article doesn't specify the insecticide 'forbidden' in Uganda but highly successful in controlling malaria and saving lives, it is most certainly DDT. Pilot projects in the early 1960s in Uganda demonstrated that DDT would dramatically reduce malaria cases, and indeed, recent indoor spraying with the insecticide produced outstanding results. It is for this reason that WHO endorses and approves of DDT.

While the Perry article points to the importance of DDT for malaria control, another article takes a very different tone, demonizing DDT. In the article The 50 Worst Inventions: DDT, published May 27, Dan Fletcher writes, "But absent from the DDT mania was consideration of the environmental effects of dumping millions of pounds of potent pesticides each year. Rachel Carson's seminal 1962 environmental tract Silent Spring was the first to call attention to the nasty little fact that DDT produced fertility and neurological problems in humans and accumulated up the food chain in wildlife, poisoning birds." To date, there is no evidence that would comply with even the most basic epidemiologic criteria to prove cause and effect that shows environmental exposure to DDT is a cause of harm to human health. It is precisely this kind of media that instills fear about the use of DDT and costs lives.