Carnival of Fighting Malaria (and DDT)

October 8, 2008

It’s been about a year since the first, completely impromptu Carnival of DDT.  Last fall, in October and November, there was enough going on about DDT to merit something like a blog carnival, with a second in November.

My news searches today turned up a number of items of interest in DDT and fighting malaria — enough to merit another summary post, IMHO.  Here goes.

First, Tim Lambert at Deltoid sets straight the history of the policy of the World Health Organization (WHO) with regard to DDT use, and whether WHO caved in to pressures from environmentalists to completely ban DDT, as Roger Bate had earlier, erroneously said.  Tim has a number of well-researched, well-reasoned posts on DDT and health; people researching the issue should be sure to visit the archives of his blog.  But for today, make sure you read “Roger Bates’ false history.

Ornithologist Tom Cade holds a gyrfalcon, which is larger than the peregrine falcons he helped to preserve. Now working to aid the revival of the California condors, he will speak Friday at Hawk Mountain Sanctuary.  Allentown (Pennsylvania) Morning-Call

Ornithologist Tom Cade holds a gyrfalcon, which is larger than the peregrine falcons he helped to preserve. Now working to aid the revival of the California condors, he will speak Friday (October 10) at Hawk Mountain Sanctuary. Allentown (Pennsylvania) Morning-Call

(Photo above has gone missing; see photo below)

Ornithologist Tom Cade, with a falcon; photo by Kate Davis, from Cade's biography at Global Raptors

Ornithologist Tom Cade, with a falcon; photo by Kate Davis, from Cade’s biography at Global Raptors

This Friday the Hawk Mountain Sanctuary presents an award to Tom Cade, the Boise, Idaho guy credited with doing much to save the endangered peregrine falcon. You can read about it in the Allentown, Pennsylvania, Morning Call.

Cade played a major role in reviving the nearly extinct peregrine falcon in the 1970s. As a graduate student, he studied how a pesticide contributed to their sharp population decline. He eventually founded a conservation group, The Peregrine Fund, which reintroduced captivity-bred birds to the wild.

. . . The falcon’s revival is widely considered one of the most successful recoveries of an endangered species. The species teetered on the brink of extinction in 1970, when as few as 39 known pairs of nesting falcons existed. A 2003 survey puts the number of nesting pairs at more than 3,100.

On Thursday Cade will receive the Sarkis Acopian Award for Distinguished Achievement in Raptor Conservation.  According to The Morning Call, “The award is given infrequently by Hawk Mountain officials and is named after the Kempton-area bird sanctuary’s primary benefactor, a late philanthropist who studied engineering at Lafayette College.”

Also, see this story about the recovery of peregrines in Canada, from the Sudbury Star.

Bug Girl tells the story of a new documentary on the Michigan State University professor who documented the deaths of songbirds made famous in Rachel Carson’s book, Silent Spring. Dr. George J. Wallace’s work became the subject of an article in Environmental Journalism in 2005.  Students and faculty at MSU’s Knight Center for Environmental Journalism produced the movie, “Dying to Be Heard.”  Be sure to check out the comments at Bug Girl, for more information.

International health care expert César Chelala argues that the “War Against Malaria Can Be Won, Without DDT” at the on-line Epoch Times. Chelala reports on a project in Mexico — where DDT use has never stopped since 1946 — a project now extended to other places in Central America, demonstrating that the tried and true methods of preventing mosquitoes from breeding and avoiding contact work well to fight malaria.  Plus, he says, it’s cheaper than using DDT.  Doubt that it could work?  Chelala points out that the Panama Canal could not be dug without controlling mosquito-borne illnesses, and the Canal was opened in 1914, 25 years before DDT was demonstrated to be deadly to insects, more than 30 years before widespread deployment of DDT.

Early detection and treatment is critical to eliminate the parasite carriers. An important aspect of this project has been the collaboration of voluntary community health workers who are taught to make an early diagnosis in situ and to administer complete courses of treatment not only to those affected but also to the patients’ immediate contacts.

The project was carried out in specific pilot areas called “demonstration areas” which had been selected due to their high levels of malaria transmission. In those areas, the number of malaria cases fell 63% from 2004 to 2007. In several demonstration areas I visited in Honduras and Mexico as a consultant for the Pan American Health Organization malaria had practically been eliminated. Plans are underway to expand the project to other regions where malaria remains a serious threat.

One of the advantages of not using DDT (besides avoiding its toxic effects) is the enormous savings realized from discontinuing its routine use. These savings can now be put to good use with other diseases.

You might also want to view Chelala’s description of solutions for public health crises in Africa, at The Globalist.

Chelala’s cool, clear and accurate reporting sadly contrasts with the hysteric and wrong reporting at Newsbusters and other polemical outlets on the web, seemingly bent on perpetration of the hoax that DDT is harmless and Rachel Carson was wrong.

Liz Rothchild’s one-woman play about Rachel Carson, “Another Kind of Silence,” got good reviews upon opening at the Warehouse Theatre, in Croydon, England.

Meanwhile, from Uganda comes news that DDT spraying failed to reduce malaria in spraying done in that nation. Proponents expected a sharp and steep decline in malaria, but numbers are not greatly reduced.  Even after taking account for the legal difficulties of spraying, after conservative businessmen sought an injunction to stop DDT use, the results do not speak well for DDT’s effectiveness.

Contrary to expectations, data collected by health departments in Apac and Oyam districts, which record the highest malaria incidence in the world, do not reflect significant improvements since DDT spraying ended prematurely. From May to July 2008, which is the period immediately following the spraying, between 400 and 600 clinical malaria cases per 100,000 of the population were reported per week in Oyam; and 600 to 800 such cases in Apac for the same period. These are almost exactly the same as the number of cases reported between January and April 2008.

Getting news out of Africa is not always easy.  Reading reports from Ugandan papers, it becomes clear that reporting standards differ greatly from the U.S. to Uganda.  Still, the saga from Uganda demonstrates that DDT is no panacea.  Uganda is a nation that had not used DDT extensively prior to the mid-1960s.  Resistance to use now comes from tobacco and cotton interests who speciously claim that potential DDT contamination of crops would result in the European Union banning vital Ugandan exports.  The legal issues all alone assume Shakespearean tragedy dimensions.  Or, perhaps more accurately, we could call the story Kafkaesque.

See also:

Happily, we have evidence that younger people show concern about DDT pollution, in a story about the stuff in Teen Ink magazine.

A study in the UK finds DDT present in colostrum, the vital pre-milk substance newly-lactating mothers create for their babies, as well as in later breast milk.

Bed bugs continue their own surge on Americans, and knee-jerk writers editorialize for the return of DDT, completely unaware that bed bugs are among those critters most resistant to DDT, and unaware that there are other, more effective solutions.

James McWilliams writes in The Texas Observer that most of us are ecological illiterates, which makes control of pollution more difficult, in a review of a new book, The Gulf Stream. Canny readers will recognize McWilliams as the author of the recently-published book, American Pests: Our Losing War on Insects from Colonial Times to DDT.

Sandra Steingraber will lecture on November 11 in Philadelphia on “The Many Faces of DDT,” part of a series of lectures sponsored by the Chemical Heritage Foundation, “Molecules That Matter.”  Steingraber is the author of Living Downstream:  An ecologist looks at cancer and the environment.

Canada’s Leader-Post reports that Chinese food processors have been caught using DDT in food to reduce insect infestations.  The cycle starts all over again.

Time for this carnival’s midway to shut down for the night.  Don’t let the bed bugs bite.

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