Sideshow of DDT and malaria


Not exactly a DDT/Malaria carnival.  Just enough for a sideshow.

First, the controversy over use of DDT in Uganda continues, even as DDT is applied daily there.  This demonstrates that DDT remains freely available for use in Africa.  It also demonstrates that Africans are not clamoring for more DDT.

Uganda offers a key proving ground for the propaganda campaign against environmentalists, against scientist, against medical care officials, and for DDT.  Though malaria plagues Uganda today and has done so for the past 200 years at least, it was not a target of the World Health Organization’s (WHO) campaign to eradicate malaria in the 1950s and 1960s, because the nation lacked the governmental structures to mount an effective campaign.  DDT was used to temporarily knock down mosquito populations, so that medical care could be improved quickly and malaria cured among humans.  Then, when the mosquitoes came roaring back as they always do with DDT, there would be no pool of the disease in humans from which the mosquitoes could get infected.  End of malaria problem.

Plus, for a too-long period of time, Uganda was ruled by the brutal dictator Idi Amin.  No serious anti-malaria campaigns could be conducted there, then.

Uganda today exports cotton and tobacco.  Cotton and tobacco interests claim they cannot allow any DDT use, because, they claim, European Union rules would then require that the tobacco and cotton imports be banned from Europe.  I can’t find any rules that require such a ban, and there are precious few incidents that suggest trace DDT residues would be a problem, but this idea contributes to the political turmoil in Uganda.  Businessmen there sued to stop the use of even the small amounts of DDT used for indoor residual spraying (IRS) in modern campaigns.  They lost.  DDT use continues in Uganda, with no evidence that more DDT would help a whit.

Malaria campaign posters from World War II, South Pacific - Mother Jones compilation

Much of the anti-malaria campaign aimed at soldiers, to convince them to use Atabrine, a preventive drug, or to use nets, or just to stay covered up at night, to prevent mosquito bites. Mother Jones compilation of posters and photos.

Second, the website for Mother Jones magazine includes a wonderful 12-slide presentation on DDT in history.  Malaria took out U.S. troops more effectively than the Japanese in some assaults in World War II.  DDT appeared to be a truly great miracle when it was used on some South Pacific islands.  Particularly interesting are the posters trying to get soldiers to help prevent the disease, some done by the World War II-ubiquitous Dr. Seuss.  Good history, there.  Warning:  Portrayals of Japanese are racist by post-War standards.

Third, a new book takes a look at the modern campaigns against malaria, those that use tactics other than DDT.  These campaigns have produced good results, leading some to hope for control of malaria, and leading Bill Gates, one of the biggest investors in anti-malaria campaigns, to kindle hopes of malaria eradication again.  Here is the New York Times  review of  Alex Perry’s Lifeblood: How to Change the World One Dead Mosquito at a Time (PublicAffairs, $25.99).   Perry is chief Africa correspondent for Time Magazine.

This little gem of a book heartens the reader by showing how eagerly an array of American billionaires, including Bill Gates and the New Jersey investor Ray Chambers (the book’s protagonist), are using concepts of efficient management to improve the rest of the world. “Lifeblood” nominally chronicles the global effort to eradicate malaria, but it is really about changes that Mr. Chambers, Mr. Gates and others are bringing to the chronically mismanaged system of foreign aid, especially in Africa.

These three snippets of reporting, snapshots of the worldwide war on malaria, all diverge dramatically from the usual false claims we see that, but for ‘environmentalist’s unholy and unjust war on DDT,’ millions or billions of African children could have been saved from death by malaria.

The real stories are more complex, less strident, and ultimately more hopeful.

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