- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 15, 2004

Anti-malaria activists are accusing the U.S. Agency for International Development of being a prisoner of politically correct policies that are inadvertently killing millions of children and pregnant women in Africa.

“If USAID were to reallocate its malaria funding to indoor spraying, thousands, hundreds of thousands of children’s lives would be saved,” said Roger Bate, an American Enterprise Institute economist and U.S. director of Africa Fighting Malaria.

He was referring to indoor spraying of DDT, the insecticide banned after the 1962 publication of “Silent Spring” by Rachel Carson, which gave birth to modern environmentalism.

“Going back to Rachel Carson, environmentalists think that DDT is bad. … DDT is about as toxic as coffee,” he said, referring to numerous studies showing that DDT, although it is highly toxic to some animals, such as birds, is not toxic to humans.

On Tuesday, Sens. Judd Gregg, New Hampshire Republican, and Russell D. Feingold, Wisconsin Democrat, asked the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to investigate USAID anti-malaria programs. They want to know what works and what does not.

“Each year, hundreds of millions of people across the globe are sickened and die from malaria. … This tremendous burden continues despite the existence of relatively simple, safe, effective and inexpensive methods to prevent and treat malaria,” the senators said in a letter to the GAO.

Mr. Bate praised the senators’ action, saying transparency and accountability are necessary because an “environmental ethos” has burrowed its way into USAID, preventing it from adopting proven, environmentally safe methods of using DDT to save African lives.

He spoke Tuesday during a hearing at the House International Relations subcommittee on Africa and to reporters afterward, citing South Africa and Zambia as nations that use DDT safely to combat malaria.

Mr. Bate also charged that USAID and other international health agencies promote inexpensive, but ineffective drugs such as chloroquine in areas where the malaria parasite has become chloroquine-resistant.

An article by a dozen of the world’s leading malaria scientists published in the medical journal Lancet in January reached a similar conclusion.

USAID officials, whose primary malaria-prevention effort involves distributing insecticide-treated bed nets, told the hearing that they are doing everything possible to combat and treat malaria.

“The United States is and has been a leading force worldwide in the battle against malaria,” Dr. Anne Peterson, assistant administrator for global health at USAID said at the hearing.

“USAID has directed and supported critical research that forms the backbone of some of the most effective interventions,” including insecticide-treated bed nets and drugs that work against resistant strains of mosquitoes.

She said the United States will spend about $80 million this year, four times what it spent in 1998, on malaria prevention and treatment.

An estimated 600 million people contract malaria each year, resulting in between 1 million and 2 million deaths, mostly among children younger than 5 and pregnant women.

USAID’s Dr. Peterson said although DDT has a place in the arsenal of effective malaria prevention, “[bed nets] are unquestionably the most effective way that families can protect themselves from malaria.”

However, officials at USAID said it is not buying any DDT, has no plans to buy any and is not funding any USAID pilot projects or studies on the efficacy and safety of DDT in Africa. USAID does support several government indoor-spraying programs.

“Bed nets are not the most cost-effective prevention,” Mr. Bate said. “The vast majority of Africans live in areas where you can spray. That would save lives. Zambian kids [in sprayed areas] are not dying.”

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