The 2007 World Health Assembly is wrapping up and people are commemorating the birthday of Silent Spring author Rachel Carson. Meanwhile, millions of Africans are commemorating still more deaths from a disease that the chemical she vilified could help control.
I just got out of the hospital, after another nasty case of malaria. I’ve had it dozens of times. I lost my son, two sisters and three nephews to it. Fifty out of 500 children in our local school for orphans died from malaria in 2005.
Virtually every Ugandan family has buried babies, children, mothers and fathers because of this disease, which kills 100,000 of us every year. Even today, 50 years after it was eradicated in the United States, malaria is the biggest killer of African children, sending 3,000 to their graves every day.
In between convulsions and fever, I thought about the progress we’re making – and about those who would stop that progress. I ask myself, why do some people care more about minor, hypothetical risks to people or animals than about human life?
Last year, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) reversed 30 years of bad policy and reauthorized DDT to help combat malaria in Africa, by spraying it on the walls of houses to keep mosquitoes out. The World Health Organization (WHO) also came out strongly in support of DDT.
Both reviewed decades of scientific studies and concluded that using DDT this way is perfectly safe for people and the environment. So did Uganda’s Ministry of Health and National Environmental Management Authority (NEMA). European Commission President Barroso said Europe supports the right of countries to use DDT, in accord with Stockholm Convention and WHO guidelines. DDT has worked in South Africa and Swaziland. USAID is now using it in Ethiopia, Mozambique and Zambia. Uganda and other African countries are preparing to add DDT to indoor-spraying programs.
We don’t see DDT as a “magic bullet” that can eradicate malaria by itself. We don’t advocate outdoor spraying with it. But we strongly support spraying tiny amounts on houses – as part of comprehensive strategies that also include other insecticides, larvacides and better sanitation to control mosquito populations, Artemisninin-based combination drugs to treat patients, and bednets, education, better hospitals and sound management practices.
No other chemical, at any price, does what DDT does. It keeps mosquitoes from entering homes, irritates the few that do enter, so they don’t bite, kills those that land, and reduces malaria rates by 75% – all with a single inexpensive spraying once or twice a year.