September 16, 2006
The World Health Organization on Friday called on more developing countries, particularly in Africa, to begin spraying the controversial pesticide DDT to fight malaria.
The difference: DDT, longed banned in the United States because of environmental damage, is no longer sprayed outdoors. Instead it's used to coat the inside walls of mud huts or other dwellings and kill mosquitoes waiting to bite families as they sleep. . . .
"We must take a position based on the science and the data," said Dr. Arata Kochi, the WHO's malaria chief. "One of the best tools we have against malaria is indoor residual house spraying. Of the dozen insecticides WHO has approved as safe for house spraying, the most effective is DDT."
"It's a big change," said biologist Amir Attaran of Canada's University of Ottawa, who has long pushed for the guidelines and described a recent draft. "There has been a lot of resistance to using insecticides to control malaria, and one insecticide especially. … That will have to be re-evaluated by a lot of people."
The U.S. government already has decided to pay for DDT and other indoor insecticide use as part of President Bush's $1.2 billion, five-year initiative to control malaria in Africa.
The cost of malaria in Africa is enormous -- it's hard to do much beyond bare survival when you're sick all the time. Plus, the noneconomic costs are very high, as life sucks when you're sick all the time, too . . . .
I highly recommend this piece by Malcolm Gladwell on DDT, malaria, and mosquitoes. And here's a piece by Ron Bailey on the ongoing political battles over DDT, which tend to pit green correctness against the lives of poor people in the Third World. And yes, this has been an InstaPundit topic for a long time.
UPDATE: Reader Dexter Van Zile emails:
I was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Africa in the 1980s.
I served in Zaire (know the DRC).
I got malaria numerous times.
It sucks. I really sucks.
The headache, the exhaustion, the fever are unbelievably debilitating.
If DDT works, use it, use it, use it.
My sentiments exactly.