Oil Company Takes the Lead in Wiping Out African Malaria

Published November 1, 2006

Marathon Oil Corporation is reporting remarkable success in a first-of-its-kind malaria eradication program.

New statistics from Equatorial Guinea in West Africa show the number of malaria-carrying mosquitoes has declined by 95 percent since Marathon launched its mosquito eradication campaign in 2003, according to Time magazine on August 28, 2006.

The dramatic decline in such a short period is giving hope to the people of a continent where 1 million die each year from malaria.

Multiple Strategies Needed

As reported in the July 2004 issue of Environment & Climate News, Marathon’s five-year, $6.8 million program aims not only to deliver an immediate, crippling blow to malaria-carrying mosquitoes but also to train local officials and give them the resources they need to ensure malaria never makes a comeback.

The first line of attack against malarial mosquitoes has been to apply small amounts of pesticide on the interior walls of people’s homes. This is important because most mosquito bites occur at night while people are in their homes.

African homes are generally open to the elements due to sweltering heat and lack of air conditioning. When mosquitoes get in, they tend to light on the interior walls. The application of small amounts of pesticides on the walls deters some mosquitoes from lingering inside and kills mosquitos that remain.

A second line of attack is the introduction of modern medicines and treatments in Equatorial Guinea hospitals. While chemical spraying has dramatically reduced the number of people contracting malaria, Equatorial Guinea hospitals also have used Marathon funds to obtain stockpiles of artemisinin–a drug used to treat multi-drug resistant strains of malaria in the most modern medical settings. Under artemisinin treatment, malaria victims have a far better chance to fully recover from the disease.

A third and forward-looking line of attack is training local personnel in all aspects of the modern attack strategy. Giving local officials the knowledge and means to continue the program on their own makes it unlikely widespread malaria will return when Marathon’s five-year program ends.

Tide Turning

“Marathon should be commended for showing leadership in fighting malaria,” said Paul Driessen, senior policy advisor for the Congress of Racial Equality and Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow. “After decades of failure fighting malaria and millions of unnecessary deaths due to this disease, things are finally changing in Equatorial Guinea and throughout Africa.”

Driessen noted anti-pesticide sentiment from environmental activists, which inhibited the fight against malaria in the past, is much less successful at holding back anti-malaria programs today.

“During the past year in particular, a new sense of urgency and realism has taken hold,” said Driessen. “We’re finally beginning to hear a little good news.”

Oil Funding Other Projects

Marathon’s public service efforts, while uniquely successful with respect to malaria eradication, are not the only current example of public service from large oil companies.

ExxonMobil, for example, is donating $100 million to Stanford University over a 10-year period for continuing research into climate change science.

“For all the concern expressed over global warming, it is refreshing to see companies such as ExxonMobil actually doing something about it,” said Daniel Simmons, director of the Natural Resources Task Force at the American Legislative Exchange Council. “Scientific research even in the past few years alone has given us a better understanding of our climate and what drives it. Scientific understanding, not political posturing or unsubstantiated scare campaigns, will allow us to make the best decisions regarding the future of our planet.”

James M. Taylor ([email protected]) is managing editor of Environment & Climate News.