A NY Times article on Arata Kochi, new chief of the World Health Organization’s global malaria program wrongly stated that DDT was banned and had to be corrected:
An article in Science Times on Tuesday, profiling Dr. Arata Kochi, the new chief of the World Health Organization’s campaign against malaria, referred imprecisely to the pesticide DDT, which can kill the mosquitoes that spread the disease. Its use has been banned in many countries for environmental reasons; it has not been withdrawn entirely.
Kochi is shaking things up in the WHO anti-malaria effort:
In January, he attacked the drug industry, naming 18 companies that were selling artemisinin in single-pill form, and giving them 90 days to stop. Monotherapy encourages resistance, and if artemisinin was lost, he said, “it will be at least 10 years before a drug that good is discovered – basically, we’re dead.”
He got his way and now he’s working on other areas:
For example, he wants to standardize mosquito nets so that, instead of a welter of competing styles that must be home-dunked in pesticide, a few makers of factory-coated nets, which kill insects for years longer, are left to compete on price. He dismisses “social marketing,” in which nets are branded and sold cheaply instead of being given away, as with an early Bush administration policy that flopped. And, despite the objections of environmentalists, he wants DDT sprayed inside huts to kill mosquitoes where they rest on walls as they wait for dark.
Do you think this will stop folks from claiming that the WHO opposes DDT use?
Also, in the Washington Monthly Joshua Kurlantzick argues that the DDT obsession of many conservatives is a distraction from the use of artemisinin combination therapy (ACT):
Oddly, malaria has become something of a conservative cause celebre in recent years. Sen. Brownback has become a dedicated advocate for combating the disease. At congressional hearings, he and fellow Republican Sen. Coburn display an impressive knowledge of the crisis and the deficiencies of USAID’s response. However, apart from a few such thoughtful exceptions, conservative energies have mostly been focused on another supposed solution: the insecticide DDT.
DDT, which helps kill malarial mosquitoes, was sprayed in America to eradicate malaria. But Rachel Carson’s vivid portrayal of the horrors wrought by the chemical in her seminal book Silent Spring caused DDT to be banned in 1972, and helped launch the modern environmental movement. For some conservatives, malaria policy has now become an unlikely tool in the anti-environmentalist backlash. The Weekly Standard, The Wall Street Journal editorial page, and National Review have dedicated more than 10 editorials in recent years touting the benefits of DDT (although some conservatives like Bate, Brownback, and Coburn do advocate both DDT and ACT). At malaria hearings for the Senate Foreign Relations committee, Republican members have repeatedly asked why the United States doesn’t promote DDT in malaria-stricken nations.
This preoccupation with DDT, however, is largely a distraction. Environmental leaders now agree that the pesticide should be used to combat malaria; few nations in Africa ban it; and USAID has agreed to spray DDT in countries like Ethiopia and Mozambique. What’s more, DDT is no silver bullet. Malaria experts agree that it reduces transmission, but emphasize that it must be combined with other interventions, including ACT. The furor over DDT has undoubtedly hampered efforts to provide better access to antimalarial drugs. When another malaria expert met with Senate staffers to discuss malaria in 2004 and 2005, they badgered him about DDT. “I tried to explain the reality,” he says, “and people in the U.S. say ‘That’s not what I was told.'” “DDT has become a fetish,” adds Allan Schapira of WHO. “You have people advocating DDT as if it’s the only insecticide that works against malaria, as if DDT would solve all problems, which is obviously absolutely unrealistic.”
Ultimately, despite the efforts of lawmakers like Brownback, meaningful action on malaria needs White House support. President Bush has certainly been generous with his rhetoric. Last year, he pledged $1.2 billion to the cause, challenging the world to move past “empty symbolism and discredited policies.” However, Rep. Tom Lantos pointed out that for the first year, this sum didn’t actually include any new money–it simply reallocated previously budgeted funds.