Saturday, February 16, 2008

For a "net" gain of lives saved, there is no substitute for DDT

I caught an ad on TV the other day for an organization called Nothing but Nets. This organization raises money to buy bed nets for people in Africa so they can sleep while protected from mosquitoes that cause malaria.

In their mission statement, Nothing but Nets defines the threat:
Malaria, from the Medieval Italian words mala aria or “bad air,” infects more than 500 million people a year and kills more than a million— one person dies about every 30 seconds. The disease is particularly devastating in Africa, where it is a leading killer of children. In addition to being home to the deadliest strain of malaria and the mosquito best equipped to transmit the disease, many areas in Africa lack the proper infrastructure and resources to fight back.
There is so much tragedy behind this paragraph, one could write a book on it. Until about 35 or 40 years ago, malaria had been practically eradicated in most of the world - including Africa - and the worst part is that the people who are most responsible for allowing malaria to reinfest Africa, are the same people who do their best to keep Africa from gaining the "proper infrastructure and resources to fight back." If you read about the history of how people have controlled the spread of malaria, Nothing but Nets should be raising funds to purchase and distribute DDT, not bed nets. These nets make a small difference, but the fact remains that at some point during the day, you are going to have to come out of the protection of your net and live your life. DDT on the other hand, goes after the mosquito where it lives and sleeps, and after all these years, no pesticide has yet been found that is as effective and as inexpensive as Dichloro-Diphenyl-Trichloroethane.

I have spoken many times of the difference between intentions and results, and the penchant for leftists to care more about the former, and conservatives to care more about the latter. The intention of the usually-leftist environmental movement in the 1960s and 1970s (and all the way up to today) was to get rid of what they saw as a dangerous carcinogen that could give people cancer and soften the shells of bird eggs. Instead, the result was to kill more people than this movement ever could have imagined possible, and they did it by banning the use of DDT, thus condemning millions of people to death or disability in the malaria-prone and poverty-stricken countries that needed DDT the most.

In the United States, the Environmental Protection Agency totally banned the use of DDT in our country in 1972. Most of the rest of the world followed our lead, or were strong-armed into giving up its use by such international organizations as the World Bank and the World Health Organization. As soon as the use of DDT was stopped, malaria began to rear its ugly head, and once again, hundreds of millions of people contracted the disease every year. For years, the mere mention of DDT would send reactionary shivers down the spines of many people, but through the writings of cool-headed scientists and free-market thinkers, the reputation of DDT began to slowly and surely be rehabilitated.

This rehabiliation became apparent on September 15, 2006 when, stunningly, the WHO reversed its policy and called for spraying DDT in peoples' homes. Naturally, environmental groups had a cow, but WHO director Arata Kochi expressed his reasoning in language against which the environmentalists would have trouble dissenting:
"We are asking these environmental groups to join the fight to save the lives of babies in Africa... This is our call to them."
This plea exposes a side of the environmental movement that is rather disturbing. It always seems that once the wealthy countries obtain their piece of the pie, environmentalists don't seem to want to see the same success for poverty-stricken countries that tend to be full of minorities. Once the use DDT eradicated malaria in North America and Europe, the rest of the world was shut out of the pesticide's benefits by environmental activists from those two relatively wealthy continents. And how many times have I heard people from the Church of Global Warming react with horror when the suggestion is made that people in dirt-poor countries of Asia and Africa should have access to free-market economies so that they might enjoy the same standard of living that is enjoyed in western Europe and the United States? The answer from the CoGW is always something akin to, "Are you kidding? If so much carbon dioxide is being produced just by the West, imagine if the entire continent of Africa was doing the same thing!" Thus, these environmental busybodies are either intentionally or unintentionally condemning millions of people to death by way of poverty, starvation, and yes, malaria.

Good Day to You, Sir


Ed Darrell said...

DDT isn't as effective nor as cheap as bed nets. DDT, when used outside the current, extremely low levels for indoor use only, kills the fish in the rivers and the predators of mosquitoes on land.

And then the mosquitoes get resistant to it.

To beat malaria in the U.S., we raised incomes, which led to better housing for most people, which meant screens on the windows. We improved health care so that most people had access to county public health services, to treat malaria.

We can't beat malaria in Africa by poisoning instead of screening and treating people. Why not do in Africa what we know worked in other places?

Chanman said...

Yeah, I was expecting the environmentalist line from someone at some point. Mosquitoes become resistant to DDT through indiscriminate spraying - not targeted applications.

You are right about the other factors in the U.S. that have stopped malaria, however, even when we were affluent, malaria was still in the south until heavy spraying of DDT, it is this affluence that keeps malaria away which is being denied to Africans by do-gooder, pro-population-control enviro-whackos who care more about Mother Earth than the people who live on it.