Sunday, June 21, 2009

Save the Humans: Use DDT to Fight Malaria

I received the latest Access to Energy newsletters the other day. Written and published by Dr. Arthur B. Robinson, they give me insight into many science topics that I normally would not read about.

One of these topics is the use of DDT to combat malaria. I was a little surprised that Dr. Robinson favored its use. I generally think pesticides are bad and try to buy organic food when I can. DDT, in particular, had a horrible association in my mind with damaging bird eggs. I don't know where that idea came from, possibly My Weekly Reader when I was in elementary school. Whatever the source of my information was, it failed to impress upon me how many human lives were saved by DDT. Access to Energy did that. I did some other reading, and I found out that the kind of spraying that is done for malaria is very restricted and is done inside the home, not outdoors.

"The same organization and people that demand an end to our use of coal, oil, and natural gas, have deliberately killed tens of millions of people--mostly children--in sub-Saharan Africa and other underdeveloped regions. After DDT was used to eradicate malaria in the developed world, it was denied to the underdeveloped countries--just as it was beginning to eradicate malaria there," Dr. Robinson said.

He was responding to an article in a May 2009 issue of The Wall Street Journal that reported the World Health Organization's (WHO) reversal of its 2006 decision to endorse DDT's use. The 2006 decision reversed a 25-year ban on DDT. During the 25-year ban, the WSJ article says that there were 50 million deaths from malaria.

Environmentalists like Medha Chandra of Pesticide Action Network say that new, safer, and more effective methods of fighting malaria are now available. What's the first one she lists? Mosquito netting for beds. Hmmm. I wouldn't describe mosquito netting as new, and I wonder if Chandra is saying that it is safer for the environment or the people. It certainly can't be more effective than DDT. Of course the netting must be used in conjunction with other methods, but from what I read, nothing new has been developed that is as effective as DDT. When that true solution comes, I will wholeheartedly endorse it, but sacrificing human lives in the meantime is not acceptable--unless you're a career environmentalist.

Obviously, career environmentalists have different priorities than people who value human life. I have thought about the similarities between environmentalists and pro-abortionists in the past. I did a little searching and found the connection I was looking for. This post on the Wintery Knight blog tells what the environmentalists' goals are and lists solid quotations for proof.


Ed Darrell said...

Alas, we need to take some of the editorial material from the Wall Street Journal with grains of salt. This is one of them.

DDT does damage bird eggs. It nearly wiped out national bird, the bald eagle, and only after more than 30 years of not using DDT did populations of eagles rise high enough for it to be taken off of the endangered species list. Banning of broadcast use of DDT on crops created one of the greatest success stories of human interaction with the natural environment we know.

My Weekly Reader didn't go into a lot of scientific depth. If you were reading it in the early 1970s, when DDT was banned, you missed the earlier editions that may have discussed how DDT had become ineffective in fighting malaria because of the same overuse of DDT on crops that prompted the ban on agricultural use in the U.S. So, by the time DDT was "banned" in the U.S., the World Health Organization had long ceased its ambitious plan to eradicate malaria, frustrated by DDT abuse in agriculture that prompted mosquitoes to develop resistance and outright immunity to DDT.

It's a crass lie to claim that anyone urged an end to DDT use in Africa, and a more grotesque distortion of the truth to claim anyone did that in order to kill Africans. DDT was banned for broadcast spraying on crops. The ban specifically allowed for use to fight malaria or other diseases, and in the U.S. we manufactured DDT for export for at least a dozen years after the ban.

DDT was available in large quantities for any nation to use against malaria, it always was, and it will be until we find more alternatives to the several already available.

Specifically, in Sub-Saharan Africa, WHO never used DDT there. The nations were too politically unstable to sustain a campaign against malaria, which required education of people on how to avoid mosquitoes, improving medical systems to accurately diagnose and treat malaria, and better wages so people could afford simple things like screens on windows, or in many cases, a home that had windows at all. DDT was never successful in eradicating malaria by itself.

Now think about this: WHO stopped using DDT in Africa and Asia in broadcast spraying in 1964. The U.S. ban on DDT on cotton crops was 1972. Is there any way a 1972 ban on DDT in the U.S. caused Africa or WHO to stop using DDT in 1964? Is there any way a ban on spraying cotton in Texas, Arkansas and Louisiana, caused malaria deaths in Africa?

WHO never had a ban on DDT, and still doesn't. WHO always regarded indoor residual spraying (IRS) as a valid and safe use for DDT, when done under tight controls. In 2005 WHO held a press conference to discuss the process to overcome opposition by Africans who remembered when DDT had devastated their villages (by killing the fish the local people needed to eat). In the past three years, careful studies have shown that DDT is no more effective than other pesticides, and often is less effective. So, in conjunction with efforts to get DDT out of the environment, WHO has also announced plans to go along with the Persistent Organic Pesticides Treaty (POPs Treaty) which was ratified in 2001. It pushes for alternatives to DDT that are much less damaging.

DDT advocates have -- strangely -- resisted bed nets for years. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation financed several projects to pass the nets out for free, and careful studies show that the nets reduce malaria by 50% to 85%. That contrasts with a DDT spray reduction of 25% to 50%. Nets cost about $10.00 and last about five years -- $2.00/year. DDT spraying in IRS costs about $12.00 per application and must be done twice a year. Nets are more effective and cost $2.00/year, compared to DDT's $24.00/year. That's why the Methodist Churches in America and other religious organizations have joined with the National Basketball Association in the Nothing But Nets campaign.
You can give $10.00 and save a life.

[More in Part II]

Ed Darrell said...

Part II

DDT has not been the most effective tool against malaria for more than 40 years, if it ever was the most effective tool. It's mighty odd that the Wall Street Journal supports use of an expensive, relatively ineffective tool. But editorializing for DDT gives them opportunities to kick all their favorite enemies, liberals, doctors, health care workers, Africans ("too stupid to know better" is the implication), environmentalists, and Al Gore. They can't resist what is, to them, such a target-rich environment, even if it does nothing but allow African kids to die from malaria.

You know, one might be excused for wondering whether the writers at the Journal really care at all about those kids.

Obviously, career politicians like the editorial writers at the Wall Street Journal and Jonah Goldberg have an agenda that differs from people who wish to sustain family farms and the wild lands that produce our drinking water, timber, minerals and recreation. Political gain often must come at the price of human lives, and fogging up the fight against malaria certainly does that, though it offers lots of opportunities for cheap shots at scientists, forest rangers, health care workers and environmentalists.

Malaria kills about a million kids a year. Is it worth those lives just to keep alive a cheap joke that makes environmentalists the butt of it?

I gather you are a follower of Christ. He taught that we should seek the truth. I urge you to do the same. I have a score of posts on DDT and malaria at my blog, with links to the hard science and hard history, that tell the story in detail. I invite you to come over, and follow the links, to find out what goes on. Do not take my word for it but seek to check out the information sources for these claims. Especially check the science and medical journals, and read how the fight against malaria goes today.

My Weekly Reader had a large corps of editors who worked hard to be sure there was no political bias in those reports. We owe it to our children, and the children of Africa and Asia, and the children of their children, to get the facts about malaria and our environment right.

Wendy Haught said...

Dear Mr. Darrell,

Thank you so much for taking the time to write such a thorough response. I have read through it once but I will read it again more carefully and visit your blog when I have more time. (I'm trying to process 100 ears of pesticide-free corn for my freezer right now!).

Dr. Robinson had also mentioned the Congress of Racial Equality as supporting the use of DDT. I would like to follow up on that organization as well.

Again, thank you for your comments.

Ed Darrell said...

CORE has a guy who has written a book calling for more DDT - no science to back his case.

Be sure to read the science. Malaria is no joking matter. We shouldn't be wasting time and money trying to overcome bad ideas, and the idea that we can easily poison Africa to health is one of the worst.