DDT hoaxsters predictably spinning India/malaria deaths story — wrongly

October 28, 2010

People so wedded to a hoax, or just wrong, view of events cannot be swayed away from their convictions easily.

Elizabeth Whelan’s hoax science policy group, the American Council on Science and Health (ACSH), put out a press release taking note of the study published in Lancet that calls into question the count of malaria deaths in India promulgated by the World Health Organization (WHO).  You remember, the study suggests the malaria death toll among adults in India may be as high as 200,000 annually, compared to the 15,000 estimated by WHO.

ACSH can’t resist the spin.  Implicit the debunking may be, but the study thoroughly debunks ACSH’s claim that more DDT will help defeat malaria.  India is the world’s greatest user of DDT, using more than all the rest of the world together.  Clearly a surplus usage of DDT has not created the miracle end to malaria that ACSH and other hoaxsters claim it would.

Still, ACSH sticks to their views, even when those views are grossly wrong.  ACSH said, “ACSH has called for resumed use of indoor residual spraying of small amounts of DDT to prevent mosquito bites, repel mosquitoes, and reduce malaria deaths.”

No word from India on whether it will dramatically reduce DDT use to meet ACSH’s call for “small amounts.”

ACSH’s press release calls attention to a Wall Street Journal Blog article describing WHO’s response to the Lancet-published study of India malaria deaths — WHO questions the “verbal autopsy” methodology, and says it stands by its estimates of malaria deaths in the nation:

“The new study uses verbal autopsy method which is suitable only for diseases with distinctive symptoms and not for malaria,” WHO’s India representative Nata Menabde said in an email statement Thursday.

The WHO says it takes into account only confirmed cases of malaria and surveys those using healthcare facilities.

Malaria symptoms include fever, flu-like illness and muscle aches. Malaria is endemic to parts of India, where many people live in mosquito-infested areas. Confirming the presence of malaria requires tests like the “Peripheral Smear for Malarial Parasite” and “Rapid Malaria Antigen”.

Lancet said the determinations made by its field researchers were reviewed by two of 130 trained doctors for all the 6,671 districts who determined whether or not the person had died from malaria.

The data concluded that 205,000 deaths before the age of 70, mainly in rural areas, were caused by malaria each year – 55,000 in early childhood, 30,000 among children ages five to 14 and 120,000 people 15 and older.

The WHO called for further review of the study.

“Malaria has symptoms common with many other diseases and cannot be correctly identified by the local population,” Dr. Menabde said, adding: “The findings of the study cannot be accepted without further validation.”

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Called this one right: DDT advocates think poison is always the answer

October 25, 2010

This is a story about the persistence of bad information, and about the flow of news and other new information.

At about the same time I was writing about the Lancet study on potential undercounting of malaria deaths in India, Debora McKenzie at New Scientist pored over the same article (maybe the same Bloomberg News piece), and reported it in greater detail than I did here.  McKenzie’s piece is worthy of a read.

Glenn Reynolds, Instapundit

Glenn Reynolds, Instapundit

Glenn Reynolds at Instapundit picked up on McKenzie’s piece — but reflecting his pro-poison and anti-humanitarianism bias, he tacked on a gratuitous slap at health workers, scientists and governments who tried to eradicate malaria in the 20th century:

MALARIA KILLING MORE PEOPLE THAN WE THOUGHT?

Malaria has always been one of humanity’s biggest killers, but it may be far bigger than we realised. An unprecedented survey of the disease suggests that it kills between 125,000 and 277,000 people per year in India alone. In contrast, the World Health Organization puts India’s toll at just 16,000.

Other countries using similar accounting methods, such as Indonesia, may also be underestimating deaths from malaria. That means it could be killing many more than the WHO’s official estimate of nearly 1 million people a year worldwide, suggesting more money should be spent to fight it.

It’s too bad the malaria eradication efforts were allowed to fail.

“Allowed” to fail?  Reynolds assumes someone wanted the program to fail?  Reynolds assumes someone could have stopped the failure, other than the pro-DDT forces who overused the stuff and drove mosquitoes to evolve resistance, or other than the governments of Subsaharan Africa who could not mount massive health care campaigns due to the instability of their governments?  It’s too bad the program failed — it was mighty ambitious.  “Allowed to fail” is an undeserved slap at malaria fighters like Fred Soper.

This slip to finger-pointing is what I warned about in my post:  Though India is the world’s greatest manufacturer of DDT, and though more DDT is used in India today than the rest of the world combined, someone will look at the undercount story, blame the imaginary ban on DDT, blame Rachel Carson (who never advocated a ban on DDT), and make some smug political snark.

Reynolds was pulled away from the snark, fortunately.  Reader Kevin O’Brien wrote to Reynolds about  the difficulties of beating any disease, using smallpox as his launching point.  Beating smallpox was a massive effort, made easier by the fact that the pox resided only in humans, as opposed to the malaria parasite’s two-species life cycle.  O’Brien’s missive to Reynolds, a few errors included, is the best commentary Reynolds has had on DDT and disease in some time.

One frequently-obnoxious blogger pulled back from the brink is not enough, though.

Andrew Bolt

Andrew Bolt

Andrew Bolt jumped the shark at his blog for the Melbourne (Australia) Daily Sun.  The headline for his post is inflammatory and wrong, and warns us that most of what Bolt writes will be wrong:

How many children did Carson’s green lies kill?

Foolish hope that DDT could be a magic bullet against malaria, like Bolt’s,  helps frustrate workable plans to fight the disease.  Policy makers being convinced that some political conspiracy keeps DDT from working to beat malaria, in effect kills children.  Fighting malaria requires long, hard work, to bolster health care systems in entire nations, to accurately and quickly diagnose malaria, and to provide complete treatment to cure human victims.  That work is hampered by policy makers and popular opinion who hold that DDT would be cheaper and quicker, and effective.  Bolt takes any source, no matter how scurrilous, in his unholy condemnation of conservationists and scientists, especially Rachel Carson.  His sole source to condemn Carson is a publication from the far, far-fringe.

How many children will Bolt’s brown lies kill? one could ask.

I warned earlier:

Watch.  Advocates of poisoning Africa and Asia will claim scientists and environmental activists are somehow to blame for any underreporting, and they will call for more DDT use, claiming a ban has made India a refuge for malaria.  Those reports will fail to mention India’s heavy DDT use already, nor will they suggest an ineffectiveness of the nearly-sacred powder.

Andrew Bolt, you’ve made me a prophet — a saddened and disappointed prophet.  It’s good to see Glenn Reynolds step back from the brink of hysteria.  It’s too bad Bolt took the plunge.  Others will probably follow Bolt.

How far will the bad claims spread?


Malaria deaths in India under-reported? Bad news for pro-DDT partisans

October 22, 2010

Nature graphic: News report on Lancet study that suggests mortality from malaria in India may be significantly higher than WHO reports indicate.

Nature graphic: News report on Lancet study that suggests mortality from malaria in India may be significantly higher than WHO reports indicate.

Good news from the war on malaria has been that annual deaths are calculated to be fewer than 1 million annually, as low as 880,000 a year — the lowest human death toll from malaria in human history.

Researchers in India suggest that deaths there are grossly underreported, however — not the 15,000 estimated by the World Health Organization, but closer to 200,000 deaths a year, nearly 15 times as great.

Reading that news, DDT partisans might get a little race of the pulse thinking that this might improve the urgency for the case for using more DDT, as advocated in several hoax health campaigns and media, such as the recent film “3 Billion and Counting.”

The problem, though, is that India is one of the few places where DDT manufacturing continues today, and India is one of the nations where DDT use is relatively unregulated and heavy.  In short, if DDT were the miracle powder it’s claimed to be, any finding that malaria deaths are 15 times greater than reported by WHO is nails in the coffin of DDT advocacy.

Bloomberg News reported:

Researchers based their estimate on interviews with family members of more than 122,000 people who died between 2001 and 2003. The numbers “greatly exceed” the WHO estimates of 15,000 malaria deaths in India each year, the researchers wrote in the study, published today in the journal The Lancet.

“It shows that malaria kills far more people than previously supposed,” said one of the study authors, Prabhat Jha of the Center for Global Health Research in Toronto, in a statement. “This is the first nationwide study that has collected information on causes of death directly from communities.”

Remote regions may have an undocumented malaria burden, because conventional methods of tracking the disease are flawed, according to the authors. In India, the government malaria data, which is used by the Geneva-based WHO, only counts patients who had tested positive for the disease at a hospital or clinic. Others who died of symptoms closely resembling the malady but didn’t get a blood test aren’t included, co-author Vinod Sharma of the Indian Institute of Technology in New Delhi said in an interview today.

The lack of accurate data may hinder efforts by governments and aid organizations to provide diagnosis and treatment to the population at risk, the authors said.

Watch.  Advocates of poisoning Africa and Asia will claim scientists and environmental activists are somehow to blame for any underreporting, and they will call for more DDT use, claiming a ban has made India a refuge for malaria.  Those reports will fail to mention India’s heavy DDT use already, nor will they suggest an ineffectiveness of the nearly-sacred powder.

The article in the Lancet became available on-line on October 21 — it’s a 4.5 megabyte .pdf document:  “Adult and child malaria mortality in India: a nationally representative mortality survey.” A team of researchers is listed as authors of the study:  Neeraj Dhingra, Prabhat Jha, Vinod P Sharma, Alan A Cohen, Raju M Jotkar, Peter S Rodriguez, Diego G Bassani, Wilson Suraweera,Ramanan Laxminarayan, Richard Peto, for the Million Death Study Collaborators.

Accurate counts of infections and deaths provide essential information for effective programming of the fight against the disease.  Researchers point no particular fingers, but make the case in the article that better methods of counting and estimating malaria deaths must be found.

There are about 1·3 million deaths from infectious diseases before age 70 in rural areas in which fever is the main symptom. If there are large numbers of deaths from undiagnosed and untreated malaria in some parts of rural India then any method of estimating overall malaria deaths must rely, directly or indirectly, on evidence of uncertain reliability from non-medical informants and, although our method of estimating malaria mortality has weaknesses, indirect methods may be even less reliable. The major source of uncertainty in our estimates arises from the possible misclassifi cation of malaria deaths as deaths from other diseases, and vice versa. There is no wholly satisfactory method to quantify the inherent uncertainty in this, and indeed the use of statistical methods to quantify uncertainty can convey a false precision. However, even if we restrict our analyses to deaths immediately classifi ed by both physician coders as malaria, WHO estimates (15 000 deaths per year at all ages)1 are only one-eighth of our lower bound of malaria deaths in India (125 000 deaths below the age of 70 years; of which about 18 000 would have been in health-care facilities).

Our study suggests that the low WHO estimate of malaria deaths in India (and only 100 000 adult malaria deaths per year worldwide) should be reconsidered. If WHO estimates of malaria deaths in India or among adults worldwide are likely to be serious underestimates, this could substantially change disease control strategies, particularly in the rural parts of states with high malaria burden. Better estimates of malaria incidence and of malaria mortality in India, Africa, and elsewhere will provide a more rational foundation for the current debates about funding for preventive measures, about the need for more rapid access to malaria diagnosis, and about affordable access in the community to effective antimalarial drugs for children and adults.

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India today, in photos

August 3, 2009

Geography teachers, get out your PowerPoints and Keynotes.

Photo of life in Delhi, India.  From a collection by Belgian photographer Frederik Buyckx, 2009

Photo of life in Delhi, India. From a collection by Belgian photographer Frederik Buyckx, 2009

Thought provoking, occasionally breath-taking photos from a 6:00 a.m. walkaround in Delhi, India; Belgian photographer Frederick Buyckx promises more photos from his recent trip to India and Pakistan, at his blog.

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India accepts climate junk science; U.S. suffers

July 25, 2009

It would be good news were it not so bad:  India, usually considered a threat to U.S. dominance in science, has turned its back on climate science and instead, citing junk science claims, rejected overtures to reduce pollution that affects climate.  India appears to have fallen victim to the hoaxters who claim climate change is no big deal.

From the Financial Times:

A split between rich and poor nations in the run-up to climate-change talks widened on Thursday.

India rejected key scientific findings on global warming, while the European Union called for more action by developing states on greenhouse gas emissions.

Jairam Ramesh, the Indian environment minister, accused the developed world of needlessly raising alarm over melting Himalayan glaciers.

He dismissed scientists’ predictions that Himalayan glaciers might disappear within 40 years as a result of global warming.

“We have to get out of the preconceived notion, which is based on western media, and invest our scientific research and other capacities to study Himalayan atmosphere,” he said.

As if the atmosphere of the Himalayan range is unaffected by emissions from Europe or Asia.  As if the glaciers in the Himalayas, and the snowfall,  and the water to India’s great rivers, come independent from the rest of the world.

Deadly air pollution obscures the India Gate, New Delhi, India, November 2008 - NowPublic.com

Deadly air pollution obscures the India Gate, New Delhi, India, November 2008 - NowPublic.com

It’s interesting to see these issues play out politically.   India and China both understand that the U.S. and Europe have much more to lose from climate change than either of those nations.  Climate damage to the U.S. wheat belt, for example, would chiefly close off U.S. production of wheat for export, opening markets for others — like India and China.  Critically, such damage also hurts U.S. ability to offset balance of payments issues, providing economic and finance advantages to China’s banks.  U.S. ports are much more vulnerable to climate change damage, from increase storms and changing ocean levels, than are ports in India and China — and there are more ports that are vulnerable in the U.S. and Europe.

India’s inaction and recalcitrance should not be used as justification for the U.S. to do nothing, thereby slitting its own patriotic throat.

But watch:  Climate denialist blogs, “hate-America-first” outlets like World Net Daily, and Osama bin Laden will hail India’s inaction.

Let’s hope cooler heads prevail, lest we run out of cooler heads.

Shake of the old scrub brush to Brown Hell and Watt’s Up With That.

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Harappa and Mohenjodaro sources

October 5, 2008

The Maharajah of Cashmere  The Illustrated London News  December 18, 1875  [From a longer story on the Prince of Wales visit to India in 1875.] With regard to the Maharajah of Cashmere, whose residence and political relations, beneath the Himalayas and in the Valley of the Upper Indus, are very remote from Bombay, we defer any notice of him till the Prince of Wales goes to visit him in Cashmere. The portrait of this Maharajah is from a photograph by Messrs. Bourne and Shepherd, of India.
The Maharajah of Cashmere The Illustrated London News December 18, 1875 (From a longer story on the Prince of Wales visit to India in 1875.) – “With regard to the Maharajah of Cashmere, whose residence and political relations, beneath the Himalayas and in the Valley of the Upper Indus, are very remote from Bombay, we defer any notice of him till the Prince of Wales goes to visit him in Cashmere. The portrait of this Maharajah is from a photograph by Messrs. Bourne and Shepherd, of India.”

World history teachers, bookmark this site:  Harappa.com

It’s a rich site about India and Pakistan, and includes information and images about the Harappa and Mohenjo-Daro civilizations.

Great images for your classrooms, or for your students’ projects.

Tip of the old scrub brush to John Maunu teaching AP World History in Grosse Ile, Michigan.

(Full text of description of site from the Asian Studies WWW Monitor below the fold.)

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