Stopping malaria: in the wake of the tsunami, malaria and other mosquito-borne diseases may be the next tragedy to hit Southeast Asia. DDT can prevent this tragedy.
According to the Associated Press, the World Health Organization has estimated that "disease could double the tsunami death toll across affected areas...." Already, some 300 to 500 million people are infected with malaria each year, according to figures published by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. These are staggering statistics, likely to be made far worse this year. Unlike the earthquake and tsunami, though, a malaria outbreak is a preventable disaster.
Malaria, as a disease, was once nearly eradicated. It could be again, saving millions of innocent lives worldwide. All that's required is the judicious use of DDT.
A Life-saving Miracle
According to National Geographic magazine, as recently as the 1930s the United States experienced nearly four million cases of malaria per year. Then came DDT. Othmar Zeidler, a German chemist, first created dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane in 1874. Its efficacy as an insecticide was not discovered until 1939, when Dr. Paul Muller found that it killed a variety of insects, including mosquitoes. In the United States, the National Malaria Eradication Program began using DDT in July 1947 as its primary agent for controlling the disease. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), by 1949 "over 4,650,000 house spray applications" of DDT had been made in regions of the U.S. where the disease had been endemic. The spraying campaign was remarkably effective. The CDC notes: "In 1947, 15,000 malaria cases were reported. By 1950, only 2,000 cases were reported. By 1951, malaria was considered eradicated from the United States."
International efforts to control malaria-carrying Anopheles mosquitoes were carried out in the 1950s under the auspices of the World Health Organization. As in the United States, DDT was the primary weapon used to stem the tide of malaria. "The walls of millions of houses were sprayed with DDT," recalled National Geographic in 1979. "Over several years the program proved highly successful. Some countries virtually wiped out malaria."
After learning some hard-earned lessons about the consequences of not using DDT to fight malaria, success with DDT has continued in recent years. In 1996, under pressure from environmentalists, South Africa replaced DDT in its malaria control program with more "friendly" insecticides. Unfortunately, Anopheles mosquitoes in neighboring regions were resistant to these new compounds. The mosquitoes quickly returned to their former range in South Africa. As a result, the number of malaria cases in South Africa rose rapidly. Four years later, South Africa reintroduced DDT to KwaZulu Natal, the hardest hit area. In "South Africa's War Against Malaria," a policy analysis paper published by the Cato Institute, authors Richard Tren and Roger Bate summarized the results of DDT's reintroduction. "By 2001 the DDT spraying began to pay dividends, and there was a 77 percent reduction in cases," Tren and Bate noted. "The trend continued as the DDT spraying was repeated in 2002. There was a further decline of 74 percent in cases that year."
DDT in the Cross Hairs
In 1962, despite its proven track record in saving lives, DDT was in the cross hairs of the fledgling environmental movement. Ecologist Rachel Carson, in her book Silent Spring, frightened the world with near apocalyptic imagery of an environment devoid of life. In the future according to Carson, roadsides, once lush with verdant growth, would be lined instead with "browned and withered vegetation as though swept by fire. These, too, were silent, deserted by all living things," Carson imagined. "Even the streams were now lifeless. Anglers no longer visited them, for all the fish had died. In the gutters under the eaves and between the shingles of the roofs, a white granular powder still showed [in] a few patches; some weeks before it had fallen like snow...." The white powder was DDT. For Carson, it was the chemical that would lead to environmental apocalypse. Her vision of the future, she said, was fictional. But, she wrote, "A grim specter has crept upon us almost unnoticed, and this imagined tragedy may easily become a stark reality we all shall know."
In her book, Carson regaled her readers with anecdotal tales from bird watchers who fretted that their feeders were empty; that cardinals, black-capped chickadees, and robins no longer frequented their gardens. Robins, she reported, were, like eagles, on the verge of extinction. Statistics, however, have not supported Carson's claims. Authors Richard Tren and Roger Bate, in their study of DDT use, note that the number of birds actually increased during the time when DDT was being sprayed. "The U.S. Audubon Society conducts an annual bird count at Christmastime," they wrote. "In 1941 the number of robins recorded was 19,616, yet the count increased to 928,639 in 1960 after several years of very heavy agricultural use of DDT." Meanwhile, with regard to eagles, Tren and Bate point out: "Even during the 1960s, autopsies of bald eagles found that gunshot wounds, electrocution, or injuries resulting from flying against buildings caused 71 percent of deaths. The autopsies revealed that only 4 of the 76 bald eagles autopsied had died of disease, and the scientists did not link any of those diseases to insecticide poisoning."
Also debunked were the claims that DDT caused the decline of fish-eating birds like eagles by thinning the shells of the birds' eggs, leading to egg breakage and high chick mortality. Numerous studies have revealed that feeding birds levels of DDT far above that found in the wild did not thin the shells of the birds' eggs. In fact, in the presence of DDT, the eggs' shells actually became thicker.
That Carson's book was misleading was admitted by the publisher in the 1972 edition. The back cover of that edition states: "No single book did more to awaken and alarm the world than Rachel Carson's Silent Spring. It makes no difference that some of the fears she expressed ten years ago have proved groundless or that here and there she may have been wrong in detail."
Nevertheless, with Carson's hyperbole as a backdrop, the environmental movement made DDT its flagship cause. By the early 1970s the numerous claims of DDT's harmful effects caused the federal government to hold hearings on the matter. In 1972, the EPA began hearings on the supposed dangers of DDT. The EPA hearings lasted seven months with scientists presenting evidence on the issue. When the hearings concluded, hearing examiner Edmund Sweeney ruled that there was no scientific basis for banning DDT. William Ruckelshaus, the head of the newly formed EPA, overturned Sweeney's ruling, despite having been absent during the entire course of hearings.
The political-environmental crusade against DDT has continued even to the present day. In 1995, the United Nations Environment Program Governing Council began to develop what they hoped would become a legally binding instrument for controlling 12 "persistent organic pollutants," or POPs. DDT was one of these "dirty dozen" chemicals. Though the treaty did not ban it outright, its use was heavily proscribed. Moreover, through the convention, the UN and the World Health Organization reserve the right to reassess the need for DDT every three years, leaving the door open to a complete ban. On May 23, 2001, over 100 nations signed the UN POP convention.
Under the guidance of the Bush White House, the United States was one of the parties to the treaty. In transmitting the treaty to the Senate for consideration of ratification, President Bush clearly stated his support for this treaty. "I recommend that the Senate give prompt and favorable consideration to the Convention and give its advice and consent to ratification."
President Bush is widely regarded as a pro-life president. His support of the POPs Treaty, however, betrays his real allegiances. By further restricting the use of DDT, the treaty makes it that much more difficult to use DDT in efforts to defeat malaria. Millions of innocent men, women, and children will be doomed as a result to unnecessary suffering and death.
Limiting the human population of the planet may, in fact, have something to do with the drive to restrict DDT usage. The decades-long anti-DDT campaign has been a mainstay of several radical environmentalist groups, including the Sierra Club and the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF). In the 1960s the head of EDF's Science Advisory Committee was Dr. Charles Wurster. When asked by a reporter about the lifesaving potential of DDT use, he responded by saying that there were already too many people on the planet. Banning DDT, he said, "is as good a way to get rid of them as any."
A witness account of Wurster's startling statement was entered into the Congressional Record by Congressman John Rarick, though Wurster later denied making this statement. Other would-be population controllers, though, have echoed this position. Economist and syndicated columnist Walter Williams notes that Alexander King, founder of the Malthusian Club of Rome, also deplored DDT's lifesaving capabilities. In a 1990 biographical essay, King wrote: "My own doubts came when DDT was introduced. In Guyana, within two years, it had almost eliminated malaria. So my chief quarrel with DDT, in hindsight, is that it has greatly added to the population problem."
DDT Double Standard
DDT saves lives, but most international aid agencies will not allow their funding to be used to support anti-malaria campaigns that use DDT. Such money is spent instead on bed nets and certain medicines.
These efforts are grossly insufficient, as the staggering number of people contracting the disease each year graphically illustrates.
The fact that international aid efforts refuse to allow the use of DDT is also a colossal double standard. In the developed world, malaria was eradicated almost entirely through the use of DDT. The same could be achieved in most, if not all, other areas of the world where the disease is endemic. That this is not done is an immense crime against humanity, tantamount to genocide.
In Southeast Asia, where the tsunami has already destroyed countless lives, a malaria outbreak would be a crippling catastrophe. Even the United Nations, purveyor of the POPs Treaty, recognizes the danger of malaria in the region. "What we are worried about is water-borne diseases like malaria and dengue fever because there is all this brackish water," says Bo Asplund, the UN humanitarian coordinator for Indonesia. This potential tragedy could be averted--and the worldwide malaria epidemic ended--cheaply and easily. All it would take is DDT.
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|Publication:||The New American|
|Date:||Feb 21, 2005|
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