- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 23, 2002

Malaria and DDT

The "Special Reports" that run in the Sunday edition involve a substantially greater investment of time, effort and resources than our usual stories. But Tom Carter's report last week on malaria and DDT broke all records with a gestation period of more than a year.

The inspiration came from a U.N. conference on AIDS held about a year and a half ago. U.N. reporter Betsy Pisik mentioned to Mr. Carter that while the conference hall resonated with the grave concerns that the African delegates expressed about AIDS, a lot of the chatter in the corridors was about malaria.

Mr. Carter started reading up on the subject and quickly discovered, to his surprise, that malaria is killing far more people in sub-Saharan Africa an estimated 3 million a year than AIDS. He also chanced on a couple of articles that particularly piqued his interest.

The first appeared in the Lancet, the respected British medical journal, in which the authors argued it was time to bring back the long discredited insecticide DDT, which remains the most effective way of killing the mosquitoes that spread malaria.

The other was a wire service story saying the South African government was resuming the use of DDT to fight malaria but that neighboring Mozambique had rejected the idea, not wanting to use a product that Western nations considered unsafe.

As Mr. Carter researched further, he learned that Western aid agencies were pressurizing malaria-suffering countries not to use DDT to kill the mosquitoes.

The World Bank, for example, mandated that Eritrea phase out its use of DDT to get a $5 million grant, and Mexico was required to stop using the insecticide as a precondition for its membership to the North American Free Trade Agreement.

Western opposition to the use of DDT stems largely from its deadly effects on wildlife, which were first documented in Rachel Carson's 1962 book, "Silent Spring." But, Mr. Carter says, "it boils down to what's more important the bald eagle or 3 million African children."

Planning a trip

The editors at The Washington Times, who like nothing better than to defy political correctness and stand conventional wisdom on its head, were enthusiastic about doing a special report on the subject but felt that to do it properly Mr. Carter should pay a personal visit to a country that was grappling with the problem.

His first choice was the southern African nation of Malawi, where malaria is a grave concern. He had lined up contacts in the country, set up interviews and arranged for a place to stay when he had to cancel the trip because of an unexpected event the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

When things slowed down a little, we began looking to see if there wasn't someplace closer and cheaper that Mr. Carter could visit to finish his story.

He began looking at Central America, which also is beset by malaria, and began getting very interested in Belize.

Supporters of DDT use in that country were telling Mr. Carter a very interesting story: They said Belize had been using DDT to control malaria-bearing mosquitoes but had halted its use under pressure from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). Malaria rates soared when the use of the insecticide was ended, the story went, so Belize resumed using it, and USAID cut off assistance.

USAID spokesmen, however, denied that was what happened, and Mr. Carter was never able to secure the cooperation he felt he needed from the government of Belize. So the project was put on hold while we looked for another country to visit.

The break came this spring when an official from the World Bank called inviting us to participate in a press trip to Uganda. The bank sees Uganda as an economic success story and wanted to promote it in the weeks ahead of an upcoming G-8 summit in Canada, which will focus on African development. The Group of Eight is an organization of seven leading industrialized nations and Russia.

We were interested in the proposal because of our weekly Africa briefing page, and we saw this as an opportunity to kill two birds with one stone. The timing was awkward for Mr. Carter, but he went anyway and got what he needed to finish his story.

David W. Jones is the foreign editor of The Washington Times. His e-mail address is [email protected]

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