Sunday, April 26, 2009

World Malaria Day was observed yesterday, and finally real progress is being made on eradicating this killer disease - no thanks to environmentalists.

Exaggerated fears about the pesticide DDT spread by Rachel Carson’s 1962 book, “Silent Spring,” prevented this solution from being used for many years. For decades, a million or more people died from malaria annually in Africa, with children accounting for 80 percent to 90 percent of those deaths. When South Africa temporarily stopped using DDT in 1996 and switched to another insecticide, the number of malaria deaths increased 500 percent by 2000.

Countries in southern Africa and parts of Swaziland, Eritrea, Ethiopia and Madagascar led the way back to using DDT. They funded their own eradication efforts to get around international aid bans that forbid using the chemical. Their success was difficult to ignore, and international organizations grudgingly flip-flopped in favor of the chemical. The dam broke in September 2006 when the World Health Organization switched from a neutral stance on DDT to actively backing its use.

Minor measures have a major impact on prevention. Mosquito nets deployed in massive numbers are important, and small amounts of DDT sprayed on walls in vulnerable malarial regions once or twice a year are highly effective in deterring malaria-bearing mosquitoes from entering homes. Environmental groups such as the Sierra Club and Environmental Defense Fund have started supporting limited use of DDT. Ironically, the Environmental Defense Fund was founded by scientists concerned about DDT.

John Bridgeland, vice chairman of Malaria No More, told this page, “We need all the tools we have to end deaths from malaria by 2015.” He is working to bring religious groups and governments together to help end this epidemic. “Faith-based institutions have the ability to mobilize large numbers of volunteers who can hang bed nets properly and ensure that people know what to do when a child runs a fever,” Mr. Bridgeland explains.

The United Nations’ goal is to reduce malaria deaths in Africa to zero by Dec. 31, 2015. It’s a tragedy that millions of victims died before simple, sensible, known weapons were used in this war against disease. In this era of climate-change scaremongering, this is a cautionary tale about acquiescing to the extreme measures environmentalists insist are necessary. Green ideas can kill people.

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