Constant pressure from concerned scientists and public interest groups appears to be paying off for the people of Africa, as the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) has endorsed the indoor spraying of DDT to battle malaria in sub-Saharan Africa.
The decision, announced on May 2, is expected to turn the tide on a disease that has killed more than 1 million people each and every year since environmental activists effectively banned DDT in favor of ineffective tools such as bed nets.
Tanzania’s health minister announced at a May 6-7 disease control conference that Tanzania will immediately lift its DDT ban. Ugandan officials made a similar announcement in April. Mozambique, which has long ignored neighboring South Africa’s pleas that it use DDT, will begin using U.S.-supplied DDT this year. South Africa, which began using DDT earlier this decade, has reduced its annual malaria death toll from 458 in 2000 to 89 in 2006.
No Human Health Risks
USAID will begin funding a campaign to selectively apply DDT in the most malaria-ravaged regions of Africa. Of the $99 million USAID has allocated to international malaria control this year, $20 million will be spent on DDT and similar chemical pesticides.
“Between 1 million and 1.5 million people will be protected,” Richard Green, director of USAID’s Office of Health, Infectious Diseases, and Nutrition, told the Washington Times for a May 3 story.
“Indoor residual spraying simply doesn’t harm people or the environment,” said Paul Driessen, senior fellow at the Congress on Racial Equality. “Trained specialists apply small amounts of DDT, under carefully controlled programs that safeguard the supplies, transportation, and use of the insecticide. Only the walls and eaves of houses are sprayed, once or twice a year. The chemical is not sprayed outdoors. So the chance of any DDT getting onto crops or flowers is almost zero.”
Ban Was Arbitrary
After effectively eliminating malaria in the United States, DDT was banned here in 1972 by then-EPA administrator William Ruckleshaus. His decision defied and overturned the decision of an EPA administrative law judge who, after seven months and 9,000 pages of scientific testimony, ruled DDT posed no risk to humans and had been falsely blamed for a thinning of birds’ eggshells and the decline in the U.S. bald eagle population.
“William Ruckleshaus reversed without explanation the decision of the judge who actually heard all the DDT testimony–Ruckleshaus heard none of it and never read any of the transcript,” reported science writer Steven Milloy on Fox News May 4. “As it was later revealed, Ruckleshaus was a member of the Audubon Society and raised money for the Environmental Defense Fund–the two activist groups that led the charge for the DDT ban.”
Africans Defy EU, Activists
Driessen and colleague Niger Innis of the Congress on Racial Equality began raising the American public’s consciousness about the ongoing African malaria holocaust with the 2003 publication of Driessen’s book Eco-Imperialism: Green Power, Black Death. Fighting a tireless campaign against environmental activists’ unsubstantiated claims that DDT stunted avian eggshell development, Innis and Driessen brought news of the ongoing holocaust to U.S. citizens and legislators previously unaware of the scope of the tragedy.
After long succumbing to environmental activists’ DDT scare campaigns and threats by the European Union to ban crop imports from nations that use DDT to fight malaria, several African nations have been buoyed by the growing international support for saving lives with DDT. Defying the EU and environmental activists, they have announced campaigns to apply DDT inside human dwellings, where mosquitoes most frequently spread malaria to vulnerable Africans.
“We have been forced to reconsider the use of the DDT to try to save the lives of our people,” Tanzania Health Minister David Mwakyusa explained in the May 8 Independent Online.
“The amount of economic pressure the Europeans have applied to African nations to refrain from using DDT has been huge,” said Alex Avery, director of research and education at the Center for Global Food Issues. “It has taken significant political courage for the African countries to ignore the European Union’s threats to ban the import of fruits, vegetables, and flowers out of unsubstantiated fears of trace levels of DDT.”
Added Avery, “If ever there were environmental questions regarding DDT, it was from extensive agricultural use, not from the small residual amount that will be used for indoor spray programs. DDT is unique in that it repels mosquitoes from even entering people’s sleeping quarters. It is the repelling ability of DDT that makes it so effective against malaria.”
DDT is essential to the treatment process, Driessen says.
“Insecticide-treated bed nets help, but they’re just not enough,” Driessen noted. “Neither they nor any other insecticide, at any price, does what DDT does: Keep 90 percent of mosquitoes from even entering a home, irritate those that do come in so they don’t bite, kill any that land on walls, and slash malaria disease and death rates by 75 percent or more in just 18 months with just one spraying every six to eight months on the inside walls of homes.
“Even Environmental Defense–which originated the hysteria against DDT–now supports its use in indoor spraying,” Driessen added.
James M. Taylor ([email protected]) is managing editor of Environment & Climate News.