Thursday, March 26, 2015

DDT ban is responsible for suffering in Africa

Although unheard of in the United States, malaria is one of the most horrific diseases in the world. Transmitted to humans by the anopheles mosquito, if left untreated – and even if treated, for that matter - it can cause abnormalities in a person’s blood and ultimately organ failure and death.

Kids are especially susceptible to it. There were 198 million cases of malaria worldwide in 2013 and 584,000 deaths. A vast majority of those who succumbed (453,000) were children under the age of 5.

Because of the ugly reality of painful suffering that manifests in the youngest of children, a veritable industry of charity exists to combat malaria in sub-Saharan Africa where 82 percent of all malaria cases occur. International funding for the war on malaria, through public money and, mostly, private money donated through churches and other organizations, now exceeds $1.5 billion a year.

Such investments and efforts have barely put a dent on malaria’s impact, even though malaria warriors pride themselves on having improved the death rate this century. But, have they really? Back in 2000, a child under the age of 5 died every 45 seconds from malaria. Today, statistics have one passing away every 60 seconds.

The death rates remain unconscionably-high because the vast financial resources that are available are mostly directed at endeavors that don’t kill mosquitoes but instead help people fight the disease itself. Such tasks include providing the masses with mosquito nets in which to sleep, educating about the disease and its earliest symptoms, and ensuring access to anitmalarial drugs and preventive treatments.

Our dollars, sweat and emotions would be better invested in methods that actually eliminate the mosquitoes so the threat is gone rather than managed. There’s no better tool that which saved the United States and Europe from the disease and has made malaria’s former abundance something of a historical footnote here. That weapon would be none other than DDT.    

Dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane was first synthesized in 1874 by University of Strasbourg graduate student Othmar Zeidler with no intent other than to produce a new molecule to satisfy his thesis. It wasn’t until 1939 that Paul Mueller stumbled upon the insecticidal nature of DDT when he was looking to develop a means to battle clothes moths.

It was then put to use by the Allies in the second half of World War II to quell typhus and/or malaria in the European and Pacific theaters. Prior to that, malaria – not bullets or bombs – claimed the lives of 60,000 American soldiers. Some 500,000 US soldiers contracted malaria; things were so bad that Douglas MacArthur said that only a third of his men were fit for combat.

DDT spraying almost instantly killed off the vectors and our healthy forces were able to turn back other evils like the Nazis and Japanese. Based on that success, DDT was then used in great volume on the home front. In 1947 there were 15,000 cases of malaria in the Southeast. By 1951 federal health officials considered malaria eradicated in the US.

Its use came to an end by 1972, mostly due to Rachel Carson’s 1962 book Silent Spring which, rightly or wrongly, blamed DDT and other insecticides for a number of calamities from environmental waste to thinning egg shells of songbirds to cancer. Despite the questionable and biased science behind Carson’s tome, and spirited debates that lasted for more than a decade after its release, the EPA banned the powder, even though it saved millions of lives.

While it had saved lives in the developed world, it was too late for undeveloped nations. The ban on DDT became global and African countries – the hardest hit by the disease – couldn’t use it. The strict adherence to the global ban has been solely responsible for killing a half-million to almost one million people every year for the past 40-plus years.

In 2006, the World Health Organization loosened – but did not release -- its steely grip and allowed the use of DDT as an indoor residual spray on the African continent. Like other charitable methods, this helps only to manage the mosquitoes – it drives them from peoples’ homes but does nothing to kill the larva that are spawned in pools of water.  The mosquitoes are allowed to exist. One’s home may be safe, but the outdoors is not.  

So, the next time the collection plate is floated around your church specifically for malaria relief, ask this question before you give: Is your church’s highest office – the Pope, Bishop, President -- doing anything to influence international powers to allow the full use of DDT?

If not, your money is going to waste…and, sadly, so are the lives of millions of innocent children.

Man possesses the weapon to right this wrong. Let’s use it. 

From the 30 March 2015 Lockport Union Sun & Journal

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