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[afro-nets] The Wall Street Journal weighs in on DDT

The Wall Street Journal weighs in on DDT

DDT Saves Lives
November 8, 2005; Page A16

It's horrifying enough that malaria -- a preventable and curable
disease -- claims one million lives every year and that most
victims are Africa's pregnant women and children under five.
Compounding this tragedy, however, is the global lobbying effort
against the most effective method of combating the mosquito-
borne illness: spraying outdoors and inside houses with the in-
secticide DDT.

Thanks to Senator Sam Brownback, among others, that could
change. The Kansas Republican has been fighting to include lan-
guage in an appropriations bill that would force the U.S. Agency
for International Development (AID) to spend more money on the
spraying of DDT. In 2004, less than 10% of AID's budget was
spent on insecticides and drugs in undeveloped countries af-
fected by malaria.

The balance went toward so-called "technical assistance." Some
of this assistance -- educating doctors, teaching government of-
ficials how to seek more aid -- is certainly legitimate. But
mostly it means paying Westerners to drive around in 4x4's to
conferences giving advice that's often lousy. In Zambia, a pri-
vate-sector initiative used DDT spraying to cut malaria inci-
dence in half in several villages, yet AID has been encouraging
the country to use less-effective bednets instead.

Before granting the agency another $100 million or so for its
2006 malaria budget, Mr. Brownback wants assurances that AID
will spend U.S. tax dollars on what works. We know DDT works be-
cause it's how Europe and North America successfully eradicated
malaria in the 1940s. And it's how Greece and Sri Lanka and
parts of South Africa combated the epidemic in later decades.

The perception -- going back to Rachel Carson -- that DDT spray-
ing is dangerous has long since been debunked. An Environmental
Protection Agency hearing as long ago as 1972 concluded that
"DDT is not carcinogenic, mutagenic, or teratogenic to man" and
that "these uses of DDT [to fight malaria] do not have a delete-
rious effect on fish, birds, wildlife, or estuarine organisms."

A few individuals at green outfits like the World Wildlife Fund
and Greenpeace have grudgingly started to admit that there is a
place for DDT in malaria control. But their organizations -- and
the environmental community in general -- continue to oppose the
use of insecticides. Likewise, AID pays lip service to DDT's
usefulness. Earlier this year Andrew Natsios, who runs the
agency, wrote that "USAID does not in any way prohibit the use
of DDT in malaria programs, if warranted in a particular country
setting." That is not, however, the same as saying the agency
promotes its use, and the fact is that AID seldom if ever con-
cludes that DDT's use is "warranted."

That's because the officials in charge of malaria control at AID
take their cues from environmentalists, who apply the most do-
mestic political pressure. The U.S. is the world's largest donor
nation, and others will follow its lead on this issue. But since
AID has not made DDT use a priority in combating malaria, nei-
ther have international aid agencies like Unicef, the World
Health Organization and the Global Fund.

Mr. Brownback's efforts to correct this are meeting resistance
from other Members of Congress, particularly in the House. The
relevant appropriations bill is currently in House-Senate nego-
tiations, and GOP Representative Jim Kolbe of Arizona is chief
among those pushing for watered-down language. His argument is
that Congress should defer to the "experts" at AID and resist
"micromanaging." But if the agency has reached a point where it
is allowing women and children to suffer and die rather than em-
ploy methods that work, it's time for Congress to exercise some
adult supervision.

Philip Coticelli

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