Green groups continue to oppose malaria control strategies

Jasson Urbach & Richard Tren | 24 May 2012
Africa Fighting Malaria
Malaria remains a major global public health problem, claiming between 700,000 and 1 million lives every year. Most of those deaths occur in children under 5 years of age in Africa. However, malaria cases have been steadily declining thanks to greatly increased donor spending which has allowed control programs to use public health insecticides. These insecticides are either sprayed inside houses or used to coat bednets and protect people from deadly mosquitoes - the disease vectors. One would think therefore that any company that comes up with a new and innovative approach to vector control would be welcomed and praised, and indeed most people would welcome new discoveries that save lives. Radical environmental groups however are unlike the rest of us and they have reacted to the news from Insefly - a Spanish company that has developed a new malaria insecticide-based paint - with harsh criticism and scaremongering.

Describing the launch of this new vector control product, which encapsulates two organophosphates and an insect growth regulator in paint, Jay Feldman executive director of Beyond Pesticides, states: "We should be advocating for a just world where we no longer treat poverty and development with poisonous band-aids, but join together to address the root causes of insect-borne disease, because the chemical-dependent alternatives are ultimately deadly for everyone."

What scientific evidence can Mr Feldman produce to support his bold claim that WHO-approved insecticides "are ultimately deadly for everyone"?

In fact, the scientific evidence weighs heavily against Mr Feldman's outrageous claims. Since the 1950s when the first long-lasting public health insecticide was introduced, namely DDT, death rates around the world have fallen and life expectancy has risen. These trends continue today and in recent years under-5 mortality has been falling sharply wherever WHO-approved insecticides have been used for malaria control programmes. The evidence exposes Mr Feldman's outlandish claims as fantastical scaremongering nonsense.

Mr Feldman, a long-time anti-DDT activist, brushes aside the fact that insecticides such as DDT were instrumental in eradicating malaria from large parts of Europe, the United States and Asia. It is an indisputable fact that since DDT was first used over 60 years ago there is no evidence that would comply with the most basic epidemiologic criteria to prove cause and effect to show that DDT environmental exposure is harmful to humans. This particular insecticide was used intensively and extensively across many developed countries with advanced health care systems starting in the mid-1940's. After almost 30 years of use they stopped. It has now been approximately 40 years since the use of DDT was discontinued in developed countries and during this time environmental scientists have conducted thousands of investigations at great financial cost and vast numbers of papers have been published. Despite millions of dollars spent on research, scientists still cannot identify any actual cases of human harm from DDT. The fact remains that human health outcomes did not suddenly worsen when DDT was introduced and did not suddenly improve after DDT use was stopped.

Although Mr Feldman does not specify what his preferred methods of malaria control are, we have to assume that they involve various methods of environmental control. Yet in a paper we recently published - available here - we expose how environmental groups have relied upon false data to show that non-insecticidal methods of malaria control work. What Mr Feldman advocates will condemn countless millions of individuals across the globe to death and disease and yet he seems to assume the moral high ground claiming that the hard working public health professionals that use safe and effective insecticides to save lives are actually endangering lives. It's a funny old world!

Africa Fighting Malaria is a non-profit health advocacy group. The organisation does not accept funding from insecticide manufacturers, pharmaceutical manufacturers or governments - we do this so as to remain non-biased and impartial.