Ashley Herzog

Under threat of trade sanctions from the West, African nations have been forced to use less effective and more expensive methods to fight the malaria epidemic, such as mosquito-repellent bed nets—which, according to World Health Organization estimates, have about a 50 percent success rate. (Countries that have reintroduced DDT, such as South Africa, have found it has a 90 percent success rate.) In any event, the DDT alternatives don’t seem to be doing much good: Every year, up to 300 million Africans get malaria, and it costs the continent’s economies billions in medical expenses and lost work days.

The situation was so dire that, in 2006, the World Health Organization announced its support for indoor DDT spraying in countries ravaged by malaria, saying the chemical had “a clean bill of health” and any possible negative effects of DDT did not outweigh its benefits. The usual suspects went nuts. As the environmentalist group the Sierra Club whined, “Studies have linked widespread reproductive disorders in animals to DDT exposure—including reproductive failure in the American Bald Eagle.” This is what happens when people start rating wildlife more worthwhile than human life.

As for DDT’s effect on humans, the claim that it causes cancer has never been proven. Some studies show a link, especially in agricultural workers who were exposed to large amounts of DDT as well as other chemicals. Others, such as one conducted by Dr. David J. Hunter of the Harvard Medical School, have found none at all. One study by the National Cancer Institute found that DDT actually reduced tumors in animals.

Others, such as writer Paul Driessen, describe the fear of DDT as a “country club anxiety,” a luxury of rich Westerners who can afford organic foods and all-natural cosmetics and clothing. They will never contract malaria. Meanwhile, Africans—many of whom are lucky to afford any food at all—have made it clear that they’re willing to accept the risk of potential side effects if it means avoiding the very real threat of malaria. Two weeks ago, Uganda initiated a program to spray houses with DDT, even though it will probably hurt their trade with the U.S. and the European Union. As Ugandan businesswoman Fiona Kobusingye told reporters, “I lost my son, two sisters and two nephews to malaria. Don’t talk to me about birds. And don’t tell me a little DDT in our bodies is worse than the risk of losing more children to this disease. African mothers would be overjoyed if that were their biggest worry.”

I’m not saying the environmental movement is entirely without merit. Nor am I a “global warming denier” or a person who believes in messing up the environment just for fun. But a movement that values a bird’s life over a human life is hard to accept and even harder to respect.

Ashley Herzog

Ashley Herzog can be reached at