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"And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free." - John 8:32
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Date:  October 16, 2006
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Killing Our Babies
by Fiona Kobusingye-Boynes

Radical environmental groups are using exaggerated and even illusory “risks” to promote campaigns against using DDT and other insecticides to control malaria. The campaigns are having the predictable effect of slowing efforts to implement comprehensive, effective disease control programs. As a result, thousands of people, mostly Africans, are dying every day from a readily preventable disease.

Finally, the World Health Organization and Uganda’s Health Ministry are again emphasizing DDT and other insecticides to control a disease that kills 110,000 Ugandans every year.

But instead of applauding the decision, anti-pesticide activists are attacking it with scare stories and lies. Every day that Paul Saoke, Physicians for Social Responsibility, Pesticide Action Network and their allies keep our health officials from ending malaria, another 300 Ugandan babies and mothers go to their graves. It’s like sending a jetliner filled with children and mothers crashing into the Rwenzori Mountains every day.

Even Environmental Defense, which started the anti-DDT war four decades ago, now says this chemical keeps mosquitoes out of homes and should be used for malaria control. But attacking insecticides is the reason PSR and PAN exist. It’s their key to fund raising and job security. So they haven’t budged – and poor Africans are paying the price.

Africans need to know the truth, and activists need to stop lying and killing our babies.

DDT does things no other weapon, at any price, can do. Sprayed in tiny amounts once or twice a year on inside walls of homes, it keeps 90% of mosquitoes from even entering, prevents those that do come in from biting, and slashes malaria rates by 75 percent. Since DDT is no longer used in agriculture, mosquitoes are unlikely to become resistant to it, and even those that are immune to its killing properties are kept away by its repellant effects.

This deadly but preventable disease infects over 400 million Africans annually, and kills nearly 2 million. In Kenya alone, malaria costs 170 million lost working days annually.  It enslaves our continent, prevents people from working, keeps tourists and investors from coming to Africa, and reduces the continent’s economic productivity by billions of dollars a year.

Any responsible organization would support doing everything possible to reduce malaria. Instead, these activist groups worry about imaginary risks from the best weapon in our arsenal. They tell us we should be more concerned about supposed dangers of DDT that are microscopic compared to dangers inflicted on Africa by mosquitoes.

Their claims about reduced lactation in nursing mothers, low birth weights in babies and impaired immune systems in children are pure speculation. No scientific study ever proved any of them. Malaria, however, absolutely does cause these problems.

Mr. Saoke says a new study shows DDT causes “massive IQ loss in children.” That is false. Professor Brenda Eskenazi claims test scores were a few points below normal in young children whose mothers had been exposed to huge amounts of DDT during pregnancy – but the problem may disappear by the time the children enter school. Other researchers have found no such harm from DDT.

Moreover, her findings are based on DDT use in agriculture. They are irrelevant to disease control programs that spray tiny amounts of DDT on walls. And the permanent brain damage caused by malaria is far worse than the problems Eskenazi found.

PSR and PAN claim DDT causes cancer. But millions of soldiers and civilians were sprayed with DDT during and after World War II, to prevent malaria and typhus. Millions of Americans were exposed to large amounts of DDT, when the US used it for malaria control and crop spraying. No study ever found that any of these people got cancer as a result.

Claims that DDT causes fertility problems have one goal: generating fear. Hundreds of millions of homes have been sprayed with DDT to control disease. There has been no documented increase of Parkinson’s disease, lower sperm counts, drops in fertility, or reduced male sexual performance, says Professor Donald Roberts, one of the world’s foremost authorities on DDT and malaria.

Claims of environmental harm stem from widespread DDT use in agriculture, but even most of those claims were later refuted. Bird eggshell thinning, for instance, was due to studies that gave birds calcium-deficient diets. US bald eagle populations were reduced not by DDT, but by illegal hunting.

The European Union will not impose trade sanctions on countries that use DDT for disease control in accord with the Stockholm Convention, EU Commission President Barroso recently said. Moreover, only individual shipments with DDT levels above prescribed tolerance levels would be affected. Carefully conducted indoor spraying programs will ensure that this doesn’t happen.

The Stockholm Convention specifically allows DDT for disease control, and will continue to do so until an effective alternative is found. So far, no other chemical comes close to DDT for keeping mosquitoes out of homes and preventing them from biting. And neither PAN nor PSR has ever contributed even one shilling toward finding a substitute – even though they spend millions a year attacking DDT and other insecticides, and perpetuating disease and death. 

Africans can worry about make-believe risks cited by insecticide-hating activist groups – and continue enduring disease, death and poverty from malaria. Or we can embrace DDT as a vital weapon, and begin controlling this Killer Disease.

We are wise enough to know what to do. We need to be allowed to make our own decisions, and not be bullied or lied to by irresponsible organizations like Physicians for “Social Responsibility” or Pesticide Action Network. 

Fiona Kobusingye-Boynes

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Notes:  Fiona Kobusingye-Boynes is coordinator of Congress of Racial Equality Uganda, and a malaria survivor who has lost many friends and family members to the disease. She recently testified before her country’s parliament on the need to control malaria.

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