DDT hoaxsters predictably spinning India/malaria deaths story — wrongly

People so wedded to a hoax, or just wrong, view of events cannot be swayed away from their convictions easily.

Elizabeth Whelan’s hoax science policy group, the American Council on Science and Health (ACSH), put out a press release taking note of the study published in Lancet that calls into question the count of malaria deaths in India promulgated by the World Health Organization (WHO).  You remember, the study suggests the malaria death toll among adults in India may be as high as 200,000 annually, compared to the 15,000 estimated by WHO.

ACSH can’t resist the spin.  Implicit the debunking may be, but the study thoroughly debunks ACSH’s claim that more DDT will help defeat malaria.  India is the world’s greatest user of DDT, using more than all the rest of the world together.  Clearly a surplus usage of DDT has not created the miracle end to malaria that ACSH and other hoaxsters claim it would.

Still, ACSH sticks to their views, even when those views are grossly wrong.  ACSH said, “ACSH has called for resumed use of indoor residual spraying of small amounts of DDT to prevent mosquito bites, repel mosquitoes, and reduce malaria deaths.”

No word from India on whether it will dramatically reduce DDT use to meet ACSH’s call for “small amounts.”

ACSH’s press release calls attention to a Wall Street Journal Blog article describing WHO’s response to the Lancet-published study of India malaria deaths — WHO questions the “verbal autopsy” methodology, and says it stands by its estimates of malaria deaths in the nation:

“The new study uses verbal autopsy method which is suitable only for diseases with distinctive symptoms and not for malaria,” WHO’s India representative Nata Menabde said in an email statement Thursday.

The WHO says it takes into account only confirmed cases of malaria and surveys those using healthcare facilities.

Malaria symptoms include fever, flu-like illness and muscle aches. Malaria is endemic to parts of India, where many people live in mosquito-infested areas. Confirming the presence of malaria requires tests like the “Peripheral Smear for Malarial Parasite” and “Rapid Malaria Antigen”.

Lancet said the determinations made by its field researchers were reviewed by two of 130 trained doctors for all the 6,671 districts who determined whether or not the person had died from malaria.

The data concluded that 205,000 deaths before the age of 70, mainly in rural areas, were caused by malaria each year – 55,000 in early childhood, 30,000 among children ages five to 14 and 120,000 people 15 and older.

The WHO called for further review of the study.

“Malaria has symptoms common with many other diseases and cannot be correctly identified by the local population,” Dr. Menabde said, adding: “The findings of the study cannot be accepted without further validation.”

4 Responses to DDT hoaxsters predictably spinning India/malaria deaths story — wrongly

  1. […] even mention it?  We’ve been reminded here that in the 21st century India is the world’s leading producer of DDT, and that the nation […]


  2. karl says:

    ACSH seems to not have learned their lesson. Today ACSH’s Gilbert Ross is commenting on that same Lancet article, complaining that the death toll would be lower if only they’d use more DDT.


    Paging Dr Ross: India uses about 5 times more DDT than the rest of the world combined. Clearly, it’s use in India isn’t restricted, and clearly it’s not getting the job done!


  3. Ed Darrell says:

    Killing the mosquitoes doesn’t work.

    They come roaring back, a bit more resistant, or a lot more resistant, to what you used against them.

    If you’ve used a broad spectrum pesticide, you’ve killed most of the predators of the mosquitoes, too. If you used DDT, you killed the predators of the predators on up to the top trophic level in the ecosystem, leaving pests like mosquitoes to run rampant. Mosquitoes recover much more quickly than their predators do.

    What was your question, again?

    If you read broadly enough, you’ll find that it’s the mosquitoes that outbreed all methods of fighting them. Malaria parasites have done well against the drugs that were heavily used in the 1960s and 1970s including chloroquine, and the uptick in malaria near the end of the 20th century was a result of the failure of the pharmaceuticals against the parasites. However, the parasites adapt more slowly than mosquitoes (thank the health gods). Artemisinin-based drugs were discovered to work pretty well. Artemisinin is a Chinese herb and traditional malaria medicine. Parasites will develop resistance to that, too, so combination therapies that use two or more parasiticides, switching off from time to time, are hoped to keep working for a while longer.

    See Jeffrey Sachs’ commentary in Scientific American a couple of years ago:

    The third advance is a new approach to disease control. In the past, the U.S. government and other donor agencies favored the sale of bed nets at a discount. The result was a very slow uptake of the nets because most African rural households were too poor to buy them. Moreover, the discounts were targeted only for young children and pregnant mothers, the groups most likely to die from malaria. That targeting policy neglected a crucial point: unprotected individuals serve as reservoirs for malaria infection, not only becoming sick themselves but facilitating transmission back to the “protected” groups because the nets are not 100-percent effective.

    The new strategy is based on mass free-distribution of nets, with one net for every sleeping site. Everybody is protected from illness and no group is left as a reservoir for transmission. The artemisinin-based medicines should also be available for free within the villages. This approach is highly affordable for donor countries, because the cost of each net is only $5, and each treatment dose of medicine about $1. Free distribution of nets is already being applied successfully in several impoverished countries.

    Malaria control is the bargain of the planet. A study that my colleagues and I undertook recently showed that comprehensive coverage of nets and medicines, and indoor insecticide where advisable, can be accomplished for $3 billion per year in the next few years, which equals just $3 from each person in the high-income world. Or to put it another way, the equivalent of two days of Pentagon spending could save more than a million lives per year. And these costs will come down in later years as infection rates decline. In addition to the lives save, the economic gains in Africa would soon amount to tens of billions of dollars per year, manifested in direct reductions of the cost of illness and increased economic growth.


  4. xmfclick says:

    Ed — In a reply to a comment in another post you say that the approach to defeating malaria should be to keep the mosquitoes at bay for six months and in that time cure infected people of malaria. [By implication, when the mosquitoes come back there will be no malaria to spread and hence the problem will be solved.] Apart from the question of the range of the mosquito (Google gives me some people who say it’s a hundred yards and others who say it’s 150 miles!) I’m not clear as to what method you are thinking of to cure the malaria (by which I assume you mean to kill all the plasmodium parasites in all the infected people’s blood). I may have missed something, but I thought the problem with plasmodium is that it rapidly out-evolves everything we throw at it. Do you know of a treatment regime that reliably kills 100% of plasmodium in 100% of carriers? (also taking into account the practical difficulties, such as persuading people to finish treatment programmes). If not, it seems to me that your suggestion is a bit fanciful and the better approach is to kill the mosquitoes.

    [I just had the amusing thought — well, it amused me — that we’ll get 99% of the way to eradicating the anopheles mosquito and then Greenpeace or the WWF will start a campaign to save anopheles on the basis that it’s greatly misunderstood and has a vital role to play in the ecology of the planet!]


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