Friday, February 6, 2009

Mr President, DDT will end malaria

(As you can see, this was originally published in 2006 and permission was given to me by Mrs. Kobusingye to reprint it in my old blog. I believe it is worth reprinting. Ridiculous claims are constantly being made by the anti-pesticide crowd about DDT; I think we need to put a face on the need for DDT. Let us open our eyes to what people living in these countries are really suffering and recognize that this is what the anti-pesticide green crowd would promulgate in the whole world; dystopia. RK)

By Fiona Kobusingye

Thursday, 8th June, 2006

DEAR Mr. President, in recent days the business community has written to you and even taken out newspaper ads opposing your carefully considered decision to fight malaria using indoor residual spraying with DDT. We are deeply concerned that this could undo years of hard work, undermine new USAID policies and programs, and result in needless deaths.

These businesses are worried about threats to ban exports from Uganda if traces of DDT are found in food products or flowers. We believe these fears are misplaced. Exports to European and other countries are vital to the nation’s future as they bring jobs and revenue to Uganda. However, other considerations are equally important:

Nothing is more important than protecting our people’s lives and health against the impact of malaria is. By contrast, concerns about revenue losses are speculative. They assume the European threats will be carried out and fail to recognize that international support is growing for indoor spraying with DDT, while pressure is building against anyone who threatens actions against life-saving insecticides and anti-malaria programs.

• The stigma and loud condemnation will come not from using DDT but from failing to use it; from putting profits and baseless fears about insecticides like DDT ahead of human lives. The stigma will go to former colonialist powers that are now malaria-free (thanks to DDT and modern housing which only wealthy people can afford), and that now demand environmental purity from poor people who still suffer and die from malaria.

• Indoor residual spraying does not contaminate the environment with DDT. Small amounts are used, by trained specialists, under carefully controlled programs that also safeguard the supplies, transportation and use of the insecticide. Only the walls and eaves of houses are sprayed; the chemical is not sprayed outdoors, the way it was in Europe and the United States years ago. So the chance of any DDT getting onto crops or flowers is almost zero.

• Concerns about DDT being harmful to wildlife or people are also misplaced. Despite decades of studies, no one has ever shown that DDT causes cancer or anything worse than skin rashes on people. Most claims about harm to animals have also been disproven – even when large amounts of DDT were sprayed on trees and fields.

• Past aid agency efforts simply have not worked. Bed nets, education and other “approved” programs have done little to reduce malaria — which is why South Africa, Swaziland, Zambia and now Uganda and Tanzania are turning to DDT and other insecticides, which do work.

• Contrary to what the business ads say, DDT does not attack malaria parasites; it attacks mosquitoes. The parasites do not build up resistance to DDT, though they have to chloroquine. And while mosquitoes can build up resistance to DDT’s killer properties, if the insecticide is overused (which would not be the case in IRS programs), they do not build resistance to DDT’s amazing repellent properties, which in effect put a long-lasting net over an entire house and all its occupants.

• Businesses would be much better off if their workers and the business executives’ own families were not at constant risk from malaria. By using DDT in conjunction with modern ACT drugs, we can eliminate malaria from most parts of our country and population. People could work, attend school, care for their families, have money to spend on things other than anti-malaria medicine, make our country prosperous, and address our energy, transportation and other health problems.


Mr. President, I myself have suffered many times from malaria, and now my internal system is totally out of balance. I lost my son, two sisters and three nephews to this vicious disease. In one year, 50 of the 500 orphan children who attended the school that my husband and I help sponsor died from malaria! There is probably not a single family in Uganda, or all of Sub-Saharan Africa, that has not lost loved ones to this disease.

Caring people have been working for years to change policies about the use of DDT. Finally, just a few months ago, USAID decided that the disease and death tolls were unconscionable and intolerable. USAID changed its policies. It is now supporting and paying for indoor spraying with DDT and other chemicals. Other agencies are also thinking seriously about supporting indoor spraying with DDT.

Mr. President, the business community fears losing export markets and money. But we must not lose sight of our single most important objective: protecting the health and lives of our precious, irreplaceable people. I therefore beg you, Mr. President, please ignore the newspaper ads. Listen to us, the people whose lives are in danger. Please don’t give us a death sentence. Give us life and good health.

Mr. President, my experience and suffering allowed me to testify in 2004 at a Martin Luther King Day conference in New York and present my statement to a US House of Representatives committee hearing. These actions, and the efforts of many others, have brought many allies to our side. President George Bush and USAID are supporting and paying for DDT. Archbishop Desmond Tutu and hundreds of clergy and doctors have signed a declaration supporting DDT to control malaria. They have been joined by renown international researchers, civil rights activists, NGO leaders and environmentalists, policy analysts and authors. Mr. President, if we join with them, we will become an unstoppable force.

Organisations that fund health and development programs will follow USAID’s wise example, including WHO, World Bank, UNICEF and European Union. Uganda will become like the United States, Europe, Canada, Australia and China – all of which once had malaria but eradicated it using DDT.

Mr. President, I have suffered so much from malaria. Whenever I think about the possibility of a malaria-free Uganda, I am overjoyed by the vision that one day Ugandans could wake up to lives freed from constant fear of disease and death to lives where good health brings prosperity, when we no longer have to spend our hard-earned money on treating this disease and burying its victims. That will be a day when we can compete equally with farmers and businessmen from other nations and take our rightful places in a fair and just world.

With the help of your good government, we have registered as an NGO here locally called CORE Uganda Chapter. We believe that global racial equality is possible, that the same rights enjoyed in other parts of the world should be accessed freely by all, and that God has given our leaders the power and obligation to fulfil this for their people.

Mr. President, I am a woman with a big, but simple wish: That you will hear the voices of people who want to be safe in their homes from mosquitoes that would sentence them to death by malaria. That you will empower your supporters even more strongly, and unite all Ugandans to fight our common enemies – the mosquitoes and the malaria they carry. And that we will all join in using sound science, good health practices and the great power of God to bring a new future to Uganda.

Thank you for considering our views, hearing our pleas and doing so much for all the people of Uganda. For God and my country!

The writer is the Regional Coordinator, Great Lakes, and Chairman of CORE Uganda



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5 comments:

Ed Darrell said...

Is this a letter to the president of Uganda? It might have been useful to George Bush, whose administration steadfastly refused to allow U.S. money to be spent for tiny amounts of DDT for indoor residual spraying, but oddly, and irrationally, also refused to allow U.S. money to be spent for bednets (which are more effective than DDT, for longer, and much cheaper than DDT) -- but overall, it's a minor issue.

DDT can't save Uganda from malaria, and Ugandans oppose it. Programs to do environmentally responsible, indoor residual spraying (IRS) with DDT ran into a buzz saw of opposition from Ugandan exporters, and cotton and coffee farmers. Go figure. Environmental groups, such as the U.S.-based Environmental Defense, approved this limited use of DDT. ED was the first organization in the world to oppose the broadcast spraying of DDT. ED was right, then. Broadcast spraying of DDT rendered very much useless against malaria-carrying mosquitoes.

Ridiculous claims are constantly being made by the Poison Africa crowd, including claims that DDT cured the developed world of malaria (it didn't -- wealth did; in the U.S., malaria was pretty much wiped out by 1939, though DDT wasn't used against mosquitoes until 1946).

Another ridiculous claim is that DDT is almost harmless. It is true that DDT is only a weak carcinogen in the first generation -- you probably won't get cancer from being exposed to DDT, but if you have children after exposure, they have a significantly elevated risk of cancers. But it is absolutely false that DDT is not dangerous in the wild. It wipes out entire ecosystems. Much of the opposition to DDT in Africa comes from people who remember when DDT sprayed to kill mosquitoes also killed all the fish in the streams and rivers. Starvation isn't a disease, but it's just as deadly as malaria. They don't want to swap one horror story for another.

There is no study ever done which suggests DDT is anything other than a very dangerous poison to wildlife. How someone could claim that it's not dangerous is beyond me. We have more than 60 years of scientific studies, not one of which suggests DDT is safe in the wild.

DDT alone cannot end malaria. DDT only works if malaria itself is wiped out in the human population while mosquito populations are reduced. Use of DDT knocks down a current generation of mosquitoes, but they quickly come back. DDT also knocks down predators of mosquitoes, which recover much more slowly. So use of DDT means a resurgence of mosquitoes, and if malaria isn't controlled in the meantime, a resurgence of malaria.

Bednets have been proven very effective, and in test runs done in Uganda, Tanzania, Swaziland, South Africa and Zambia show a good campaign on bednets will reduce malaria infections between 50 and 85 percent -- much better reductions that we get from DDT. Bednets cost less than $10.00, and lasts about 5 years. A treatment of a house with DDT costs about $12.00, and lasts about six months. The Gates Foundation and other charities are working hard to spread bednets, because they work much better than any insecticide. Several of these studies have been done since 2005, so your correspondent may not have known about them, then.

If education campaigns have not worked in the past, they must be redone. Ultimately the only way to wipe out malaria is to do what developed nations did: Drain mosquito breeding places close to human homes, screen home windows and doors from mosquitoes where possible (which requires significantly different architecture, and more money) and educate people to avoid contact with vector mosquitoes in their daily activities.

Also, medical care must be improved, both to diagnose and treat malaria infections, and to use pharmaceuticals effectively to avoid pushing the evolution of the parasites to be resistant to the drugs.

The recent resurgence of malaria in Africa was due to the resistance to the drugs used to treat the parasites in humans, not to a rise in mosquitoes. DDT cannot affect the parasites, as your correspondent notes -- but that simply means that DDT is not a panacea. We cannot poison Africa to health when a lack of poison is not the problem.

DDT resistance is now worldwide among mosquitoes. As a mosquito repellent, DDT is not nearly so effective as other chemicals, all of which are much less deadly to the predators of mosquitoes. If we wish to repel mosquitoes, DDT is often counterproductive.

I find it odd that your correspondent gives credit to George Bush. His administration opposed the use of USAID money to purchase DDT for any use. That policy may have been changed in 2007, but testimony by USAID in that year, to Congress, indicated they still would not spend money for DDT. The politics of DDT among conservatives and business organizations is absolutely impenetrable. It's odd that this woman gives credit to the people who oppose IRS, though. That suggests that she may be similarly ill-informed about other aspects of the problem.

But I see that this woman works for CORE. Sadly, CORE has descended into scientific wankery on DDT and malaria, making wild claims about what the stuff can do, and similarly inaccurate claims about programs to use it.

DDT is a deadly poison. It kills off entire ecosystems. It is carcinogenic (though only weakly so in humans on first contact). As a tool against malaria, it has only very limited effectiveness.

Let's fight malaria, not imagined enemies among environmentalists.

Ed Darrell said...

P.S. -- I have a number of posts on the campaigns against malaria, and DDT, over at my blog, Millard Fillmore's Bathtub. If you want to research the issues, my posts have links to take you to the sources.

www.timpanogos.wordpress.com

Rich Kozlovich said...

Everything you have said here and in the past is nonsense and misinformation.

Anonymous said...

Not that anyone seems to care, but people like Ed Darrell are the problem period. They worry more about DDT thyan you know.It WAS the main reason malaria was wiped out in the western world. The inventor won a noble peace prise for the formula.It saved numerous lives in WWII.

The only reason his ilk cares about DDT is that it is what their masaih Rachel Carson lamented over in her JUNK SCIENCE fiction book in 1962 called Sielnt Spring.

To discredit her beliefs ,that DDT is BAD BAD BAD ,would dengraate Rachel Carson and mer message.

Gaia great,people who gives a damn.

Rich Kozlovich said...

Dear Anonymous,

It actually goes far beyond that. Those who defend Rachel Carson and her views in Silent Spring know that if it can be shown that the information regarding DDT is false then everything the activists have said since then is called into question.

The ban on DDT gave the environmental movement power they had never dreamed possible. It is the basis for everything that has followed.

Also I would appreciate everyone not attacking Mr. Darrell. He isn’t permitted to post here and therefore can’t defend himself.

Rich K.