Jewish World Review June 28, 2002 /18 Tamuz, 5762

Drs. Michael A. Glueck & Robert J. Cihak

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The scientific advances on the safe and effective deployment of DDT are being ignored, or denied. Why? | According to Richard Tren, chairman of Africa Fighting Malaria, "The use of small amounts of DDT means the difference between life and death for thousands of people in the developing world every day." In recent decades, new or recurrent malaria epidemics in Swaziland, Madagascar and South Africa have abated, primarily through the agency of this powerful insecticide.

Malaria currently kills more than 2 million people every year, many of them children. Scientists estimate one child in Africa dies from malaria every twenty seconds. This toll is hard to imagine.

Death by malaria can be reduced and even eliminated by the simple strategy of periodically spraying small amounts of DDT on the inside walls of bedrooms to repel and kill malaria-carrying mosquitoes. The World Health Organization has published reports that "have consistently and accurately characterized DDT-sprayed houses as the most cost effective and safe approach to malaria control," writes Dr. Donald R. Roberts, professor, Department of Preventive Medicine/Biometrics, Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, in the July 22, 2000 issue of the medical journal Lancet. In spite of its own findings, however, WHO has moved away from this very effective tactic.

Which leads us to the bad news. The scientific advances on the safe and effective deployment of DDT are being ignored, or denied, by some Western philanthropists and government agencies who offer grants to foreign public health officials on the condition they NEVER make use of DDT.

Why this fear of DDT? Ironically, DDT's past successes may have seeded its current crop of problems. About fifty years ago, DDT was shown to be safe for human beings and highly toxic to insects. This led to indiscriminate spraying from crop-duster airplanes to control agricultural pests, in addition to malaria-carrying mosquitoes.

Subsequently, DDT was blamed for thinning wild bird eggshells. In actuality Rachel Carson's often quoted erroneous claim that DDT in the natural environment directly caused shell thinning was later disproved. However, another effect from the heavy use of DDT was reduced local bug populations, which might have secondarily impaired the food supply, nutrition and reproduction of bug-eating birds.

Resulting worries about the harm to the environment, especially to birds, led to the EPA decision in 1972 to ban DDT in the United States. Other nations followed suit - and malaria epidemics recurred. Although the disease kills over 2 million people every year, most of them children in Africa, it's uncommon in the USA.

So what is malaria? This debilitating disease is caused by a parasite that is passed to human beings by certain types of mosquitoes. By controlling the mosquitoes bearing the disease, DDT prevented more than 500 million premature deaths before it was banned in the 1970s according to the National Academy of Sciences. After testing and re-testing, DDT was found to have very few side effects and complications in human beings.

Spraying tons of DDT on crops from airplanes is not comparable to controlled spraying inside the bedroom walls of homes. The quantities and concentration are very different, and so are the effects. After use of DDT for over half a century, "Claims of risks of DDT to human health and the environment have not been confirmed by replicated scientific inquiry," according to Dr. Roberts.

Birds don't die from DDT - and people never did. But millions of people are dying of malaria because of the illogical superstition against its use. Many public health officials and scientists are stepping forward to right this injustice. Dr. Roberts reports that a letter "signed by over 380 scientists, including three Nobel laureates in medicine, representing 57 countries, supports continued use of DDT and residual spraying of houses for malaria control."

Daniel J. Ncayiyana, editor of the South African Medical Journal, opines in the British Medical Journal three months ago that the ban on DDT, "a cheap and highly effective weapon against malaria because it was thought to be harmful to US bird species cost millions of African lives, whereas no African has ever died from the normal use" of DDT.

We find much hope in the fact that people in South Africa, Sri Lanka, and other nations recognize that "environmental correctness" is incorrect and wrong when it sacrifices millions of lives. They refuse to allow countless numbers of their people to die of a disease that can be eliminated cheaply and safely with DDT. These countries are turning the tide toward life. And we trust that many more will follow.

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Michael Arnold Glueck, M.D., of Newport Beach, Calif., writes on medical, legal, disability and mental health reform. Robert J. Cihak, M.D., of Aberdeen, Wash., is president of the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons. Both JWR contributors are Harvard trained diagnostic radiologists who write numerous commentaries and articles for newspapers, newsletters, magazines and journals nationally and internationally. Comment by clicking here.


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