Not long ago, most Americans thought malaria had disappeared from Planet Earth. Few remembered that it had killed thousands every year in the United States, into the 1940s – or that it was once prevalent in New Jersey, Ohio, California and the South, as well as in Europe and even Siberia.
All but a handful knew this preventable disease was killing an African child every 30 seconds – a million every year. Almost none realized malaria was still a global problem largely because of strident environmentalist opposition to insecticides and DDT to control mosquitoes that spread the disease.
While billions were being spent on cancer and HIV/AIDS, the 2003 US Agency for International Development budget for fighting malaria was $30 million – and almost 90% of it was being spent in the Washington, DC area, on contractors, conferences, educational materials and “capacity building.”
The New York Times, Washington Times, Wall Street Journal and many others took exception, arguing that DDT and modern insecticides were essential in combating malaria. The Congress of Racial Equality and Association of American Physicians and Surgeons implored President Bush to support renewed DDT use.
No other chemical in existence, they pointed out, does what DDT does, at a fraction of the cost of supposed “alternatives.” Sprayed in small amounts on the walls of mud and thatch huts, this powerful spatial repellant keeps mosquitoes from entering homes for six months or more, irritates the few that do enter so they don’t bite, kills any that land, and slashes malaria rates by 70% or more.
President Bush responded to the outrage and launched the President’s Malaria Initiative in June 2005.
Several months later, the Kill Malarial Mosquitoes Now coalition presented the President, USAID and Congress with a strongly worded declaration, signed by Nobel Peace Prize Laureates Desmond Tutu, Norman Borlaug and FW DeKlerk, Greenpeace co-founder Patrick Moore, and hundreds of physicians, clergy, civil rights leaders and other “people of conscience.” Malaria funds must be spent saving lives, not hosting conferences, they insisted. America must support DDT, bednets and drug therapies.
In response, Senator Tom Coburn led a bipartisan House-Senate-White House-USAID effort that increased malaria funding to over $100 million for FY-2006, with most of it to be spent on nets, drugs and sprays. President Bush pledged $1.2 billion for the PMI over a five-year period.
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