We will eradicate malaria by 2010, stricken families were promised a few years ago. Well, 2010 is almost gone and, instead of eradication, we have more malaria than before, and a new target date: 2015.
Unless malaria control policies change, that date too will come and go. Billions will still be at risk of getting malaria. Hundreds of millions will continue getting the disease. Millions will die or become permanently brain-damaged. And poverty and misery will continue ravaging Third World communities.
For years, malaria strategies have been dominated by insecticide-treated bed nets, Artemisia-based drugs, improved diagnostics and hospitals, educational campaigns, and a fruitless search for vaccines against highly complex plasmodium parasites. All are vital, but not nearly enough.
Notably absent in all too many programs has been vector control – larvacides, insecticides and repellants, to break the malaria victim-to-mosquito-to-healthy-human transmission cycle, by reducing mosquito populations and keeping the flying killers away from people. Dr. William Gorgas employed these methods to slash malaria and yellow fever rates during construction of the Panama Canal a century ago.
They are just as essential today. But well-funded environmental pressure groups vilify, attack and stymie their use, callously causing needless tragedy and suffering. They especially target the use of DDT.
Spraying the walls and eaves of houses once or twice a year with this powerful spatial repellant keeps 80-90% of mosquitoes from even entering a home; irritates any that do enter, so they don’t bite; and kills any that land. DDT is a long-lasting mosquito net over entire households. No other chemical, at any price, can do this. And no one (certainly not any eco pressure group) is working to develop one.
This miracle chemical had helped prevent typhus and malaria during and after World War II, and completely eradicate malaria in the United States, Canada and Europe. It was then enlisted in an effort to rid the entire world of malaria. After initial successes, DDT ran into an unexpected roadblock in 1969.
As physician Rutledge Taylor chronicles in his pull-no-punches new film, “3 Billion and Counting,” Sierra Club, Audubon Society and Environmental Defense Fund enlisted DDT in their own campaign, to get it banned. They said the chemical posed unacceptable risks to people, wildlife and the environment – and used pseudo-scientific cancer and ecological horror stories, like those in Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, to spook people, politicians and bureaucrats.
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