Save Africans, kill mosquitoes

05 May 2006
Washington Times
The yawn that greeted the announcement this week -- reported on by Joyce Howard Price -- that officials at the U.S. Agency for International Development are now vigorously endorsing and funding the use of DDT in Africa is representative of the world community's general lack of concern over the hundreds of millions of people who suffer from malaria every year. We applaud USAID's decision, even if we regret how long it's taken to reach it.

Put bluntly, malaria's killing spree -- believed to be somewhere in the realm of 50 million people since 1972 -- is worse than AIDS. Of the 500 million annual victims, 90 percent live in Africa. In the sub-Saharan nation of Uganda alone, malaria is responsible for the deaths of 100,000 children under the age of 5 every year. In dollar amounts, the United Nations says malaria costs Africa about $12 billion annually, or about 40 percent of its health expenditures.

None of which is news to those who have witnessed the ongoing genocide for years, pleading with Western nations to lift their unsubstantiated fears of using DDT, whose effectiveness in combating malaria remains unmatched. Consider that in South Africa, which used DDT before banning the substance in 1996, malaria rates jumped from a few thousand every year to 50,000. Despite opposition from the international community, in 2003 South Africa reversed the ban and watched its malaria rates return to their pre-1996 levels.

Western nations, including the United States, have ignored DDT's life-saving attributes and focused instead on its outdated and unproven environmental and health effects. First, study after study have found no evidence that DDT has any negative effects on human health. Second, concerns over its environmental impact are exaggerated at best, and could be controlled easily with regulated spraying in homes instead of on crops. It is believed that twice-yearly sprayings inside homes is all that's required to dramatically reduce infection rates.
But if history is any guide, expect more of the foolishness coming now from the European Union. In response to Uganda's announcement recently that it will begin spraying DDT, the European Union has threatened to restrict imports of Ugandan crops. Closer to home, environmental groups are already lining up against USAID's decision to end three decades of human-inflicted epidemic.

No doubt, the environmentalists will ratchet up their nostalgia for Rachel Carson's "Silent Spring." USAID's program, however, should be just enough to silence them. Of the $99 million USAID currently spends about on malaria control annually, much of which is used for less-effective insecticides, drug treatments and mosquito nets, $20 million will go to indoor DDT spraying. In Mozambique, Ethiopia and Zambia, another $10 million has been allocated for indoor spraying later this year. It's a small step, to be sure, but it should save hundreds of thousands of lives.