Anti-DDT Policies Are Deadly for Africa, by Thompson Ayodele and Adegoke Anthony

Thompson Ayodele

Anti-DDT Policies Are Deadly for Africa

by Thompson Ayodele (bio) and Adegoke Anthony

Last year, one of our colleagues, his wife and their two children were diagnosed with malaria.  In an instant, their lives were turned upside down.  All other plans were postponed.  The priority was getting better and staying alive.

For countless families in Nigeria and the rest of Africa, this horrible drama is repeated over and over, year after year.  Over 300 million Africans get malaria annually, and up to one million of our children will die from it.

Meanwhile, in countries that no longer have malaria, environmentalists are celebrating the 100th birthday of Rachel Carson.  Her book, Silent Spring, helped launch the environmental activist movement and led to a nearly worldwide ban on the insecticide DDT.  Were she still alive, she could witness the countless family tragedies that this ban helped cause, and she would probably be appalled.

Malaria once killed thousands of Americans annually.  It sent Jamestown colonists to early graves and – as late as the 1930s – reduced the industrial output of America’s southern states by a third.  Malarial mosquitoes also ruled over Europe for centuries.  They decimated armies from the time of Alexander the Great to World War II.

But during that global war, dichloro-diphenyl-trichloroethane (DDT) was dusted on Allied soldiers and tents to prevent malaria.  After the war, it stopped a European typhus epidemic.  It then helped virtually eradicate malaria in the United States by 1952 and in Europe by 1961.  It was also used  – often carelessly and in excess – to protect crops against insects.

However, in the midst of these successes, Rachel Carson and the emerging environmental movement concluded that DDT was building up in wildlife, livestock and humans.  They said it would result in devastating consequences.  Instead of conducting objective, scientific studies to see if DDT was actually harmful, they mounted a worldwide campaign that ultimately caused DDT to be removed even from the malaria control arsenal.

For these Americans and Europeans, seeking this ban imposed no costs.  Malaria was largely gone in their countries.  When they visit Africa, they stay in five-star hotels, away from mosquitoes.  They have bug sprays and medicines to prevent and treat disease.  They rarely visit the hospitals or homes where people are suffering and dying or feel the pain of million of poor people whose cause they claim to champion.

Africa essentially became a sacrifice zone where environmental ideologies demand that only politically-correct tools like bed nets be used to prevent the disease that is still the biggest single killer of our children.  It is a crime against humanity to ban DDT and leave over 300 million African mothers, fathers and children to suffer every year from acute malaria.

Even today, 65 years after it was first used in disease control, no other chemical works as well for as long or at a lower cost in stopping malaria and other mosquito-borne diseases than DDT.  There is no proof that it is harmful to people or animals when used responsibly.  That is why hundreds of physicians, clergy and human rights advocates have demanded that it be put back into the malaria control arsenal.

Finally, our health officials are listening.  The World Health Organization and USAID are again supporting DDT for household spraying, and millions are benefiting.

South Africa’s DDT household-spraying program cut malaria rates by 80 percent in 18 months with no harmful environmental effects.  Mozambique, Zambia, Madagascar and Swaziland slashed their malaria rates by more than 75 percent within two years.  The countries were then able to treat a much smaller number of seriously ill patients with new artemisinin-based drugs, and slashed malaria rates by over 90 percent in just three years!

Uganda has also been able to reduce the malarial burden from 30 percent to three percent in villages where houses were sprayed with Icon.  Now it plans to use DDT as well because it costs less, keeps mosquitoes out of houses and remains effective much longer.

Despite these huge achievements, some people in Europe threaten agricultural bans and other sanctions against countries that use DDT to save lives.  Aid agencies refuse to supply or support the use of DDT while promoting bed nets that don’t get delivered and await vaccines that are still a decade away.

Environmental groups continue to tell lies about DDT and worry more about hypothetical health problems from the chemical than about the disease and death it can prevent.

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Thompson Ayodele and Adegoke Anthony represent the Initiative for Public Policy Analysis in Lagos, Nigeria.  This commentary originally appeared in the Nigerian newspaper This Day on July 1, 2007.  Comments may be sent to [email protected].

Published by The National Center for Public Policy Research. Reprints permitted provided source is credited. New Visions Commentaries reflect the views of their author, and not necessarily those of Project 21 or the National Center for Public Policy Research.

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