- The Washington Times - Monday, September 18, 2006

Overturning a long-standing policy, the World Health Organization announced Friday that it will — finally — encourage the use of DDT to fight malaria in some of the world’s poorest countries. While this is most welcome, what’s maddening about WHO’s announcement is that it has long considered DDT a safe insecticide. The U.N. agency, however, wouldn’t aggressively promote its use due to pressure from environmental groups. It seems even the United Nations can’t argue with facts and the fact is DDT, if used properly, could save hundreds of thousands of lives every year.

Consider these other facts: Malaria infects close to 500 million people every year, a majority in sub-Saharan Africa. Of the 1 million it kills annually, many are children under the age of 5. Since around the middle of the 20th century, malaria has all but disappeared from developed Western nations, including the United States where it was once a very common disease. Effective DDT spraying made that happen.

Consider also that when South Africa banned DDT in 1996, the malaria rate jumped from just a few thousand to more than 50,000. As a result, South Africa resumed spraying and the infection rate has returned to pre-1996 levels.

But as persuasive and undeniable as these figures are, the environmental lobby around the world refuses to listen. Here’s Jay Feldman, executive director of the Washington-based Beyond Pesticide, commenting on WHO’s announcement in the Wall Street Journal: Wider use of DDT, he said, “is shortsighted and doesn’t recognize the long-term problems and hazards… It behooves us to advocate the phase-out of this chemical around the world and try to find solutions to malaria that go to the cause of infestation.” Remarkable — 1 million dead every year and Mr. Feldman wants the non-malaria nations of the world to continue looking for root causes.

Unfortunately, the European Union tends to buy into this blather and the concern is that it will ban exports from African nations using DDT. To head off a trade dispute, Sen. Tom Coburn wrote to EU Prime Minister Jose Manuel Barroso, all but pleading with him to listen to reason. In addition, the Bush administration should think of greater ways to encourage the EU, which has shown few signs of changing its two decade long fear of DDT.

In the meantime, the United States is stepping up its DDT effort. Last spring, the U.S. Agency for International Development endorsed greater DDT spraying in malaria-ravaged countries, and pledged $20 million toward that end. The WHO’s announcement should do much to convince skeptical countries and help what has increasingly been a U.S.-led campaign. As this newspaper and many others have been saying for a while now, all of this is long overdue.

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