Wednesday, July 9, 2003

Each year malaria kills more than 1 million individuals — 90 percent of them are from Africa and most of them are children. It infects more than 300 million individuals each year, and each day that President Bush is discussing our AIDS initiative in Africa, malaria-carrying mosquitoes will infect about 3,000 children. Let there be no mistake, in terms of the economic and human toll it takes annually in Africa, malaria is in many ways even more devastating than AIDS.

“Malaria is Africa’s leading cause of under-5 mortality (20 percent) and constitutes 10 percent of the continent’s overall disease burden,” according to the World Health Organization. Malaria has been estimated to cost Africa about $12 billion in lost gross domestic product every year, and it accounts for 40 percent of Africa’s public health expenditures.

In contrast to AIDS, an inexpensive, effective preventative to malaria is available: the limited use of DDT for insect control. The use of DDT is controversial, but it shouldn’t be in this case. In the first place, only a small dose — a small strip of DDT applied around the inside walls of a dwelling once or twice a year — would be enough to prevent vast numbers of malaria infections. There’s no need to spray DDT on cropland, and there would be little point in doing so if the hope is to protect non-farmers. Besides, there’s no evidence that DDT has a negative effect on human health. Independently reviewed studies on possible links between DDT and human disease have found only correlations, not causations. As Roger Bate, director of the Africa Fighting Malaria organization, has pointed out, never has a peer-reviewed, independently reproduced study conclusively proved that DDT exposure causes human health problems. And, even if there were a few adverse effects, those would have to be weighed against the stubborn fact — and the almost incomprehensible tragedy — of the annual human toll taken by the disease.

Mr. Bush is properly touting his AIDS initiative in Africa. But, since the real reason for his generous initiative is to save lives, then he would be remiss if he neglected also to advocate the limited use of DDT against perhaps an even worse African plague than AIDS. Mr. Bush should break his silence on the issue. The costs are too staggering to do otherwise.

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