- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 3, 2000

Jocchonia Gumede dreads phone calls from home. Six times over the last 18 months the phone has rung in the Johannesburg, South Africa, home where Mr. Gumede works as a domestic servant. And six times he has lost another family member to malaria.
To most Americans, this tragedy of tropic disease and family death is as remote as South Africa itself it could never happen here. Thanks to DDT, they're correct.
DDT, the totemic spark of the modern environmental movement ignited by Rachel Carson in Silent Spring, was used to eradicate malaria in the U.S. and Europe after World War II. According the National Academy of Sciences, by 1970 DDT had saved more than 500 million lives from malaria.
But now, partly due to pressure from environmental groups, the anopheles mosquito that carries malaria is back in force and people are dying at skyrocketing rates. In Mr. Gumede's home district of KwaZulu Natal, for example, there has been a 1,000 percent jump in malaria cases since DDT was removed for malaria control in 1996.
In desperation, South Africa and other African countries are returning to DDT and are facing hostility from the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and other environmental organizations who have been pressuring the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) to virtually ban DDT. On Dec. 4-9, in Johannesburg, delegates from the U.S. and more than 100 other countries to the UNEP Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs) convention will meet to decide whether to globally restrict or ban DDT. Some countries will apply individually for exemptions to use DDT for malaria control.
But many countries have been coming under pressure from international health and environment agencies to give up DDT or face losing aid grants. Because the U.S. and all other donor countries have banned DDT, they say it would be illegal to sanction its use elsewhere. Reportedly, Belize and Bolivia have given in to such pressure from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). And Mozambique's top malaria-vector control official says some of the foreign donor agencies are adamantly opposed to DDT use in his country, one of the world's poorest and most malaria-ridden. No doubt there are others.
More politically powerful countries such as India and China continue to produce and use DDT in their health programs. Surprisingly, however, because of lack of coordination among the relevant bureaucracies, India's representatives to the UNEP treaty are just now trying to register DDT use for exemption. The result of the potential loss of aid and poor bureaucratic capacity means that although more than 23 countries around the world currently use DDT to control malaria, at last count only nine had asked for exemptions.
Merely listing DDT as a POP will surely kill people, it seems. The environmental organizations who want to ban DDT would do well to remember these names: Siphiwe Gumede, Jabulani Gumede, Phumzile Gumede, Zondwayo Gumede, Phinias Gumede and Daniela Gumede. These are Jocchonia Gumede's relatives. All come from the same small town, and all died from malaria after DDT was removed because of international political pressure.
Recently the WWF and other green groups have backtracked, saying they now do not want a phase-out date for DDT. But WWF Canada still insists on getting rid of DDT by 2007, so the sudden, apparent sensitivity to malaria control doesn't quite add up. What is clear is that these groups cannot hide from the responsibility for their past, overt pressure to remove the most effective, cost-efficient means of protecting people from malaria.
In Africa, a child dies of malaria every 15 seconds. Around the world, from South Africa to South America to South Asia and back, hundreds of millions of more children, pregnant mothers and other family members are infected anew each year. Given the appalling consequences, it seems outrageous that the UNEP can even contemplate limiting the use of DDT in the developing world. But that is what may happen next week.


Roger Bate is a director of the South African nongovernmental organization Africa Fighting Malaria and co-author of "When Politics Kills: Malaria and the DDT Story." (see www.fightingmalaria.org)

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