Malaria tough to beat: Canadian Press review of The Fever

July 5, 2010

At Canadian Press, Carl Hartman reviewed The Fever: How Malaria Has Ruled Humankind for 500,000 Years, a dramatic work of non-fiction about malaria and mosquitoes by Sonia Shah (Sarah Crichton Books/Farrar, Straus and Giroux 2010).  Hartman concluded:

Evidence of mosquito resistance to the drug has been recently reported.

Shah is skeptical of a surge of private charity that emphasizes the use of mosquito nets following the decline of government-led anti-malaria programs in the 1990s. Acknowledging the contributions of Bill Gates and former Presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton, she lists Veto the ‘Squito, a youth-led charity; Nothing but Nets, an anti-malarial basketball charity; and World Swim Against Malaria. She quotes The New York Times as decrying “hip ways to show you care.”

Her own comment: “Just because something is simple doesn’t necessarily mean that people will do it.”

“(T)he schools, roads, clinics, secure housing and good governance that enable regular prevention and prompt treatment must be built,” she concludes. “Otherwise the cycle of depression and resurgence will begin anew; malaria will win, as it always has.”

Anti-environmentalists, anti-scientists, and other conservatives won’t like the book:  It says we can’t beat malaria cheaply by just spreading a lot of poison on Africa and Africans.

Especially if you’re doing the noble thing and vacationing in the Gulf of Mexico in Alabama, or Mississippi, or Louisiana, you may want to read this.  If you’re vacationing in the Hamptons, Martha’s Vinyard, or Cannes, buy several copies to pass out at dinner with your friends.


Annals of DDT: Malawi ponders DDT use against malaria

June 21, 2010

Here’s a news story that Richard Tren and Donald North hope neither you nor anyone else will read.  It says that Malawi is pondering whether to use DDT for Indoor Residual Spraying (IRS) to fight malaria this season — and it lists several other nations that use DDT in exactly that way.

Why do the Chronically Obsessed With Rachel Carson (COWRC) like Tren and North hope you won’t see it?

It says DDT is being used broadly against malaria, in several nations on two continents.  That directly contradicts one of their favorite claims, that environmentalists (always unnamed) prevent the use of DDT anywhere.  It also shows clearly that DDT is not banned in Africa, another claim they like to blame on unnamed environmentalists and “left” do-gooders.

Facts of the malaria fight are that the consensus among serious malaria-warriors favors the integrated pest management schemes Rachel Carson wrote would be the savior of pesticides, in 1962 (in international circles, it’s called integrated vector management, “vectors” being the carriers of disease).  Quite to the contrary of Rachel Carson’s being the cause of needless deaths to malaria, her methods are saving lives.  The death toll from malaria is lower now than it was when DDT was used more broadly, and used outdoors.

Malawi going for DDT to fight malaria

Nyasa Times, June 20, 2010

Malawi is contemplating to start using DDT, an organochlorine pesticide, as a precaution in the fight against malaria in the country.

Chris Kang'ombe, Malawi Secretary for Health - Nyasa Times

Chris Kang'ombe, Malawi Secretary for Health - Nyasa Times

Principal Secretary in the Ministry of Health Chris Kang’ombe (pictured) said in Lilongwe during the launch of this year’s anti-malaria campaign themed, “Malungo zii (Kick out malaria)”.

“We know that our friends from Zambia and other countries are using it as an indoor residual spraying and it is working, so we are looking into it if we can do the same,” said Kang’ombe.

According to 2004-2009 statistical data provided by the UN, World Bank, WHO and UNAIDS, there were 4,204,468 reported malaria cases, 12,950 estimated malaria deaths and 7,132 reported malaria deaths in Malawi.

“We sent a team to Zambia to do a research on the use of DDT in fighting malaria and once the recommendations are made we will see what to do. We know that they are successful but we have to look at what effects DDT has on environment and agriculture taking into consideration that our economy is agro-based,” he said.

Some commentators and activists have raised concerns about DDT contaminating the environment if it is used in vector control. As with the other insecticides used in IRS, DDT causes minimal or zero contamination of the wider environment. Because DDT does not escape into the wider environment, it poses little or no threat to wildlife.

Results from the 2008 MIS demonstrated the dramatic progress Zambia is making in its fight to control malaria. Since 2006, malaria parasite prevalence in children has been reduced by 50%, and moderate to severe anemia has been reduced by more than 60%.

DDT is not only highly effective in malaria control, but it is also significantly cheaper than the other insecticides that are suitable for indoor residual spraying (IRS). It is easy to use and safe for both the residents of houses sprayed and the sprayers themselves.

More people than ever are sleeping under bed nets and two-thirds of all households are protected by at least one ITN or indoor residual spraying.

Use of DDT to fight malaria has been increasing since it was endorsed in 2006 by the World Health Organization and the President’s Malaria Initiative (PMI), a U.S. aid program launched by former President Bush.

USAID provides approximately $26 million per year to Malawi under PMI to purchase and distribute about 1,600,000 long life insecticide-treated bed nets, according to its Malawi office fact sheet.

“It is also used to purchase and distribute a national supply of over 6.6 million doses of life saving artemisinin-based combination therapy (ACT) drugs, implement an Indoor Residual Spraying (IRS) programme for 28,000 households and provide preventive treatment for malaria nationwide for pregnant women attending antenatal care,” reads part of the report.

PMI activities began in Malawi in 2007 and the U.S. government has committed a total of $107 million for addressing malaria over the five year period of 2007-2012.

“With six million cases of malaria per year in Malawi, the fight against malaria is far from over but through close collaborations between the governments of the United States and Malawi and other partners, we are making progress,” said Curt Reintsma, USAID Mission Director.

In 2009, data showed that use of ITNs by vulnerable children improved to 61% from 37% in 2005.

“We rededicate our partnership between Malawi and the United States to defeat this preventable and treatable killer,” said Reintsma.

Kang’ombe said the ministry has been implementing several malaria control strategies aimed at reducing the burden of malaria to a level of no public health significance in Malawi. These strategic areas which are coordinated by the NMCP includes; Malaria Case Management, Intermittent Preventive Treatment for pregnant women (IPTp) where women are routinely provided with at least 2 doses of SP during pregnancy.

“Integrated Vector Management is another major strategy that the ministry of health is implementing as one of the control measures for malaria in Malawi. This involves distribution of Insecticide Treated Mosquito nets and Indoor Residual Spraying. Operational Research, Monitoring and Evaluation and Information, Education and Communication/Advocacy are some of the cross cutting strategic areas that are also being implemented,” said Kang’ombe adding.

Some nations which are using DDT are: Ethiopia, South Africa, India, Mauritius, Myanmar, Yemen, Uganda, Mozambique and Swaziland, Zimbabwe, North Korea, Eritrea, Gambia, Namibia and Zambia.

DDT may have a variety of human health effects, including reduced fertility, genital birth defects, breast cancer, diabetes and damage to developing brains. Its metabolite, DDE and can block male hormones.

See also:

French researchers find link between DDT exposure and Parkinson’s Disease

June 16, 2010

French researchers looked at men who possess a gene that predisposes them to Parkinson’s Disease, and found that DDT exposure correlates with actual onset of the disease.

(Reuters) – Men with certain genetic variations who were exposed to some toxic pesticides which are now largely banned run an increased risk of developing Parkinson’s disease, French scientists said Monday.

Researchers found that among men exposed to pesticides such as DDT, carriers of the gene variants were three and a half times more likely to develop Parkinson’s than those with the normal version of the gene.

The scientists, whose work was published in the Archives of Neurology journal, think the brains of people with the gene variant fail to flush out toxins as efficiently as those with normal versions of the gene, suggesting environmental as well as genetic factors are important in the risk of Parkinson’s.

DDT, which belongs to a group of pesticides known as organochlorines, is one of the “Dirty Dozen” chemicals banned by a 2001 United Nations convention after it was found to be a toxin that can suppress the immune system.

It is infamous for threatening bird populations by thinning eggshells, and has also been linked to increase risks in humans of diseases such as cancer and Parkinson’s — an incurable and often deadly brain disease.

But exemptions to the DDT ban are allowed in many developing nations because it so effective in killing mosquitoes. DDT’s Swiss inventor Paul Hermann Muller won the 1948 Nobel Prize for Medicine — before its wider toxic effects were known.

Alexis Elbaz and Fabien Dutheil, of France’s National Institute for Health and Medical Research (INSERM) studied 101 men with Parkinson’s and 234 without the disease to look at links between organochlorine exposure and Parkinson’s disease.

The study included only men, and all of them had had high levels of exposure to pesticides through their work as farmers.

The scientists found the link was around 3.5 times stronger in men who carried two copies of a gene known as ABCB1, which plays a role in helping the brain flush out dangerous chemicals.

File that one away for the next time some yahoo claims there are no harmful effects to health from DDT.  The study probably could not distinguish between heavy exposure to pesticides and the much lighter exposure assumed to result from Indoor Residual Spraying of DDT, such as is used in some places in Africa in the fight against malaria.

Anybody got a copy of the actual study, in English?

Washington Times felled by DDT poisoning

June 9, 2010

Washington Times‘ owner, the Unification Church, put the paper up for sale earlier this year — tired of losing north of $30 million a year on the thing.  It appears that, in a cost-cutting move, the paper has laid off all its fact checkers and most of its editors.

And anyone with a brain.

DDT use in the U.S. peaked in 1959, with 70 million pounds of the stuff used in that year.  This ad comes from about that time.

DDT use in the U.S. peaked in 1959, with 70 million pounds of the stuff used in that year. This ad for a French product containing DDT comes from about that time.

How do we know?

Our old friend Stephen Milloy complains about Time Magazine’s “50 Worst Inventions” list, including, especially the listing of DDT, as discussed earlier.  It’s wrong, and silly.  Good fact checkers, and good editors, wouldn’t let such claptrap make it into print.

Milloy packed an astounding number of whoppers in a short paragraph about DDT:

From 1943 through its banning by the EPA in 1972, DDT saved hundreds of millions of lives all over the world from a variety of vector-borne diseases. Even when Environmental Protection Agency Administrator (and closeted environmental activist) William D. Ruckelshaus banned DDT in 1972, he did so despite a finding from an EPA administrative law judge who, after seven months and 9,000 pages of testimony, ruled that DDT presented no threat of harm to humans or wildlife. Today, a million children die every year from malaria. DDT could safely make a tremendous dent in that toll.

Let us count the errors and falsehoods:

1.  DDT was used against typhus from 1943 through about 1946, and against bedbugs; it saved millions, but not hundreds of millions. Death tolls from typhus rarely rose over a million a year, if it ever did.  Bedbugs don’t kill, they just itch.  If we add in malaria after 1946, in a few years we push to four million deaths total from insect-borne diseases — but of course, that’s with DDT being used.  If we charitably claim DDT saved four million lives a year between 1943 and 1972, we get a total of 117 million lives saved.  But we know that figure is inflated a lot.

Sure, DDT helped stop some disease epidemics.  But it didn’t save “hundreds of millions of lives” in 29 years of use.  The National Academy of Sciences, in a book noting that DDT should be banned because its dangers far outweigh its long-term benefits, goofed and said DDT had saved 500 million lives from malaria, and said DDT is one of the most beneficial chemicals ever devised by humans.  500 million is the annual infection rate from malaria, with a high of nearly four million deaths, but in most years under a million deaths.  Malaria kills about one of every 500 people infected in a year.  That’s far too many deaths, but it’s not as many lives saved as Milloy claims.

NAS grossly overstated the benefits of DDT, and still called for it to be banned.

The question is, why is Milloy grossly inflating his figures?  Isn’t it good enough for DDT to be recognized as one of the most beneficial substances ever devised?

My father always warned that when advertisers start inflating their claims, they are trying to hide something nasty.

2.  Ruckelshaus didn’t ban DDT on his own — nor was he a “closeted” environmentalist. He got the job at EPA because he was an outstanding lawyer and administrator, with deep understanding of environmental issues — his environmentalism was one of his chief qualifications for the job.  (Maybe Milloy spent the ’70s in a closet, and assumes everyone else did, too?)  But EPA acted only when ordered to act by two different federal courts (Judge David Bazelon ordered an end to all use of DDT at one of the trials).  At trial, DDT had been found to be inherently dangerous and uncontrollable.  Both courts were ready to order DDT banned completely, but stayed those orders pending EPA’s regulatory hearings and action.

In fact, regulatory actions against DDT began in the 1950s; by 1970, scientific evidence was overwhelming (and it has not be contradicted:

The U.S. Department of Agriculture, the federal agency with responsibility of regulating pesticides before the formation of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in 1970, began regulatory actions in the late 1950s and 1960s to prohibit many of DDT’s uses because of mounting evidence of the pesticide’s declining benefits and environmental and toxicological effects. Rachel Carson’s book Silent Spring in 1962 stimulated widespread public concern over the dangers of improper pesticide use and the need for better pesticide controls.

In 1972, EPA issued a cancellation order for DDT based on adverse environmental effects of its use, such as those to wildlife, as well as DDT’s potential human health risks. Since then, studies have continued, and a causal relationship between DDT exposure and reproductive effects is suspected. Today, DDT is classified as a probable human carcinogen by U.S. and international authorities. This classification is based on animal studies in which some animals developed liver tumors.

DDT is known to be very persistent in the environment, will accumulate in fatty tissues, and can travel long distances in the upper atmosphere. Since the use of DDT was discontinued in the United States, its concentration in the environment and animals has decreased, but because of its persistence, residues of concern from historical use still remain.

3.  Judge Sweeney ruled that DDT is dangerous to humans and especially wildlife, but that DDT’s new, Rachel-Carson-friendly label would probably protect human health and the environment. EPA Administrative Law Judge Edmund Sweeney presided at the hearings in 1971.  As in the two previous federal court trials, DDT advocates had ample opportunity to make their case.  32 companies and agencies defended the use of DDT in the proceeding.  Just prior to the hearings, DDT manufacturers announced plans to relabel DDT for use only in small amounts, against disease, or in emergencies, and not in broadcast spraying ever.  This proved significant later.

Judge Sweeney did not find that DDT is harmless.  Quite to the contrary, Sweeney wrote in the findings of the hearing:

20.  DDT can have a deleterious effect on freshwater fish and estuarine organisms when directly applied to the water.

21.  DDT is used as a rodenticide. [DDT was used to kill bats in homes and office buildings; this was so effective that, coupled with accidental dosing of bats from their eating insects carrying DDT,  it actually threatened to wipe out some species of bat in the southwest U.S.]

22.  DDT can have an adverse effect on beneficial animals.

23.  DDT is concentrated in organisms and can be transferred through food chains.

DDT use in the U.S. had dropped from a 1959 high of 79 million pounds, to just 12 million pounds by 1972.  Hazards from DDT use prompted federal agencies such as the Department of Agriculture and Department of Interior to severely restrict or stop use of the stuff prior to 1963.  Seeing the writing on the wall, manufacturers tried to keep DDT on the market by labeling it very restrictively.  That would allow people to buy it legally,  and then use it illegally, but such misuse can almost never be prosecuted.

Sweeney wrote that, under the new, very restrictive label, DDT could be kept on the market.  Ruckelshaus ruled that EPA had a duty to protect the environment even from abusive, off-label use, and issued a ban on all agricultural use.

4.  More DDT today won’t significantly reduce malaria’s death toll. Milloy fails to mention that DDT use against malaria was slowed dramatically in the mid-1960s — seven years before the U.S. banned spraying cotton with it — because mosquitoes had become resistant and immune to DDT.  DDT use was not stopped because of the U.S. ban on spraying crops; DDT use was reduced because it didn’t work.

Milloy also ignores the fact that DDT is being used today.  Not all populations of mosquitoes developed immunity, yet.  DDT has a place in a carefully-managed program of “integrated vector management,” involving rotating several pesticides to ensure mosquitoes don’t evolve immunity, and spraying small amounts of the pesticide on the walls of houses where it is most effective, and ensuring that DDT especially does not get outdoors.

To the extent DDT can be used effectively, it is being used.  More DDT can only cause environmental harm, and perhaps harm to human health.

Most significantly, Milloy grossly overstates the effectiveness of DDT.  Deaths from malaria numbered nearly 3 million a year in the late 1950s; by the middle 1960s, the death rate hovered near 2 million per year.  Today, annual death rates are under a million — less than half the death rate when DDT use was at its peak.  Were DDT the panacea Milloy claims, shouldn’t the death numbers go the other way?

Milloy gets away making wild, misleading and inaccurate claims when editors don’t bother to read his stuff, and they don’t bother to ask “does this make sense?”  Nothing Milloy claims could be confirmed with a search of PubMed, the most easily accessible, authoritative data base of serious science journals dealing with health.

Obviously, Washington Times didn’t bother to check.  Were all the fact checkers let go?

Even more lunatic

Milloy also attacked the decision to get lead out of gasoline.  Ignoring all the facts and the astoundingly long history of severe health effects from lead pollution, Milloy dropped this stinking mental turd:

As to leaded gasoline, we can safely say that leaded gasoline helped provide America and the world with unprecedented freedom and fueled tremendous prosperity. We don’t use leaded gasoline in the United States anymore, but more because people simply don’t like the idea of leaded gasoline as opposed to any body of science showing that it caused anybody any harm. It’s the dose that makes the poison, and there never was enough lead in the ambient environment to threaten health.

The U.S. found that getting lead out of gasoline actually improved our national IQ.  Lead’s health effects were so pervasive, there was an almost-immediate improvement in health for the entire nation, especially children, when lead was removed.  Denying the harms of tetraethyl lead in gasoline goes past junk science, to outright falsehood.

What is Milloy’s fascination with presenting deadly poisons as “harmless?”  Why does he hate children so?

Why do publications not catch these hallucination-like errors and junk science promotions when he writes them?

Antidote to DDT poisoning in humans:  Spread the facts:

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Measles vaccine: Britain bans anti-vaxxer Wakefield

May 25, 2010

Dr. Andrew Wakefield’s license to practice medicine in Britain was stripped away by British authorities earlier today, due to his “ethical lapses” in conducting research against measles vaccines.

Wakefield’s research claims, published in the distinguished medical journal Lancet in 1998, sparked a worldwide hysteria over the claimed link of Mumps-Measles-Rubella vaccine (MMR) to autism.  The journal earlier withdrew the article when the research was exposed as faulty and reaching erroneous conclusions.

Lancet retracted the paper earlier this year.

Effects of Wakefield’s errors ripple across the globe, as children pay the price with measles rates up worldwide, especially in Africa, and in North AmericaRob Breckenridge described the damage for the Calgary Herald:

However, Wakefield’s foul legacy is very much consequential. His latest comeuppance is hopefully a small step in undoing that legacy’s damage, but much damage has already been done.

Wakefield authored a now-discredited paper published in 1998 in The Lancet, which implied that the MMR (measles-mumps-rubella) vaccine was linked to autism.

Numerous studies have shown no such link exists, but Wakefield’s research had the predictable effect of scaring people away from the MMR vaccine. Vaccination rates plummeted in the U.K., and the number of measles cases soared.

In 2008 in the U.K., there were almost 1,400 cases of measles compared with 56 the year Wakefield’s paper was published. In 2006, a 13-year-old boy died from measles — the first time in 14 years such a death had been recorded.

On top of the multiple studies rejecting the MMRautism link, The Lancet issued a formal retraction of Wakefield’s paper in February, citing his unethical and irresponsible conduct.

Once a disease like measles becomes rare, we tend to drop our guard, either forgetting how serious it is or assuming it can never come back. As we’ve seen in the U.K. it can come back with a vengeance. Unfortunately, it’s not only the U.K. where we’re learning that lesson.

This month, Alberta Health Services confirmed five cases of measles in the Calgary area. Given our lack of recent experience with measles — there was only one case provincewide in 2009 — AHS offered a primer on the disease.

Measles is extremely contagious, meaning one need not have close contact with an infected person. There is no cure, but vaccination can prevent it. There are still pockets of the province where vaccination rates are low and measles cases there have been higher.

Southwestern Alberta is one of those regions. Not only has measles made a comeback there — a 2000 outbreak closed a Lethbridge-area private school — but cases of mumps and whooping cough have been documented over the past two years.

In B.C., 87 measles cases have been confirmed this year. It’s believed many stem from infected out-of-country visitors at the Vancouver Olympics.

All cases involve people who were either not vaccinated, or only partially vaccinated. Eight cases were associated with a single household, where no one had been vaccinated.

As Typhoid Mary denied she could be the cause of the deaths of the people she cooked for, and so continued cooking, Wakefield promises to keep up his campaign for measles.

Instapundit’s Glenn Reynolds poisoned by DDT

May 24, 2010

You can read about it here, at Instapundit.

Reynolds wants DDT back because dengue fever showed up at Key West.  News for Reynolds:  We see it in Texas all the time, but usually among poorer people with Hispanic heritage who live along the Rio Grande.  (Funny how these conservative nutballs all worry about people, so long as they’re white, and rich enough to travel to tropical vacation spots; where’s Reynolds to worry about the people who supply his fruits and vegetables?)

One solution:  Improve health care to cure humans with dengue, and then mosquitoes that spread it have no pool of infection to draw from — mosquito bites become just mosquito bites.

Other preventives:  Drain mosquito breeding areas (tires, flower pots, potholes, etc.) within 50 yards of human habitation.  Mosquitoes don’t fly far, and if they can’t breed where people are, they won’t travel to find human victims.

Stupid, destructive solutions:  Spray DDT.  DDT kills insects, bats and birds that prey on mosquitoes much more effectively than it kills mosquitoes, and mosquitoes evolve resistance faster, and rebreed faster. DDT is especially deadly against brown pelicans — maybe Reynolds figures we don’t need to worry about them any more, since they’re under assault from the oil slick that threatens to kill the estuaries of Louisiana.  Were he concerned about the birds, surely he’d have realized his error, right?

So, why did Glenn Reynolds get stupid about DDT?  Why is he promoting DDT, instead of promoting ways to fight dengue?


But, then, Glenn Reynolds has been a fool for poisoning (anyone but himself) for a long time:


United Conservatives of Virginia swallow the DDT poison, too.  Don’t these people ever study history?

Transmission of Dengue Fever

Transmission of Dengue Fever

Help Glenn Reynolds recover from DDT poisoning, let others know the facts:

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Measles ride again

May 23, 2010

Those people who warn against vaccinating kids?  They are laying low today.  They didn’t pick up the New York Times as they usually do on a Sunday — they don’t want to know.

You may want to know, however.

More than 1,100 deaths from measles have been reported among 64,000 known cases in Africa the last year, it said. Chad, Nigeria and Zimbabwe have had the largest outbreaks.

“There is a widespread resurgence of measles with these outbreaks in over 30 African countries, some of which are seeing very high case fatality ratios,” WHO expert Peter Strebel told a news briefing.

Some 8,000 migrant children in Bulgaria also had the highly-contagious disease during the period, he said.

Measles deaths among children under five years old fell to 118,000 in 2008 from 733,000 in 2000, according to the United Nations agency’s latest figures.

But the WHO warned that a lack of funding and political commitment could result in a return to more than 500,000 cases measles deaths per year by 2012, wiping out the gains to date.

Avoiding vaccinations for measles suddenly may not be a great idea.

Good news: Warming probably won’t expand malaria much

May 19, 2010

A paper in the May 20 edition of Nature reports that global warming probably won’t expand the range of malaria much.  That’s good news.

Here’s the press release from the University of Florida, touting the paper written by two University of Florida researchers, among others:

Scientists: Malaria control to overcome disease’s spread as climate warms

Filed under Environment, Health, Research on Wednesday, May 19, 2010.

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Contrary to a widespread assumption, global warming is unlikely to expand the range of malaria because of malaria control, development and other factors that are at work to corral the disease.

So concludes a team of scientists including two University of Florida researchers in a paper set to appear May 20 in the journal Nature.

Scientists and public policy makers have been concerned that warming temperatures would create conditions that would either push malaria into new areas or make it worse in existing ones. But the team of six scientists, including David Smith and Andy Tatem, faculty members with UF’s biology and geography departments and both at UF’s Emerging Pathogens Institute, analyzed a historical contraction of the geographic range and general reduction in the intensity of malaria — a contraction that occurred over a century during which the globe warmed. They determined that if the future trends are like past ones, the contraction is likely to continue under the most likely warming scenarios.

“If we continue to fund malaria control, we can certainly be prepared to counteract the risk that warming could expand the global distribution of malaria,” Smith said.

The team, part of the Wellcome Trust’s multinational Malaria Atlas Project, noted that malaria control efforts over the past century have shrunk the prevalence of the disease from most of the world to a region including Sub-Saharan Africa, Southeast Asia and South America, with the bulk of fatalities confined to Africa. This has occurred despite a global temperature rise of about 1 degree Fahrenheit, on average, during the same period.

“The globe warmed over the past century, but the range of malaria contracted substantially,” Tatem said. “Warming isn’t the only factor that affects malaria.”

The reasons why malaria has shrunk are varied and in some countries mysterious, but they usually include mosquito control efforts, better access to health care, urbanization and economic development. The banned pesticide DDT was instrumental in ridding the disease from 24 countries in Southern Europe, the former Soviet Union and elsewhere in the world between 1955 and 1969, Smith said. Researchers debate how the U.S. defeated malaria, but the reduction of mosquito breeding grounds, improved housing and reduced emphasis on agriculture that comes with development — and the reduced risk of bites that accompanies urbanization – probably played a role, Smith said.

“There is no one tale that seems to determine the story globally,” Tatem said. “If we had to choose one thing, we would guess economic development, but that’s kind of a cop out” because the specific mechanisms may still remain unclear, and controlling malaria might also help to kick-start development.

In any case, current malaria control efforts such as insecticide-treated bed nets, modern low-cost diagnostic kits and new anti-malarial drugs, have proved remarkably effective, with more and more countries achieving control or outright elimination. Unless current control efforts were to suddenly stop, they are likely to counteract the spread of mosquitoes or other malaria-spreading effects from anticipated temperature increases, Smith said.

Simon Hay, an author of the Nature paper and one of the chief architects of the Malaria Atlas Project, noted that modern malaria control efforts “reduce transmission massively and counteract the much smaller effects of rising temperatures.”

“Malaria remains a huge public health problem, and the international community has an unprecedented opportunity to relieve this burden with existing interventions,” he said. “Any failure in meeting this challenge will be very difficult to attribute to climate change.”

Key to controlling malaria is the treatment of the disease in human victims.  Malaria parasites must spend part of their life cycle in humans; if medical care can cure humans, mosquitoes have no well of the disease to draw from, to spread it.

This paper says that global warming won’t spread the disease, so long as medical care and local health officials can keep effective treatments — a complete cure for human victims — coming quickly.


Wall Street Journal’s DDT-fueled war on science

May 12, 2010

I don’t subscribe to the Wall Street Journal — their discounts to educators are lousy.

So I missed this editorial when it ran on April 24, 2010 (page A12), “DDT and population control – malaria still kills one million every year.”

Nominally, that should be good news.  At the peak of DDT use in the early 1960s, malaria killed about 3 million people annually.  By the time we banned DDT use on cotton crops in the U.S., the death toll was still about 2 million people annually.  From the heyday of DDT, we’ve decreased malaria’s death toll, to less than half what it was.

Editorial writers at the Journal don’t let facts get in their way when they go off on a misdirected political jihad or crusade.  Gross error Number 1:  They mislead readers about the facts.

They are claiming that a million is too many (it is), but they claim that the total would be significantly less if only Americans would attack Africa with poison.  We have trouble enough with wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, it seems to me.  There is no indication that we could reduce malaria rates with a lot of extra poison.  Malaria is a parasite in human blood.  To defeat the disease we have to defeat the infections in humans.  Mosquitoes just spread the disease from one human to another.  DDT does not cure malaria in humans; it is one preventive device of limited effectiveness.

What are they on about?

The Journal’s editorial writers said:

Environmental activists this week marked the 40th anniversary of Earth Day, which happened to fall three days before World Malaria Day. Insofar as Earth Day politics have contributed to today’s malaria epidemic, the two events are related.

You could see this one coming.  The reactionaries at the editorial seek out opportunities to criticize environmentalists, whose cause they see as anti-business.   The Journal’s editorial page usually carries an op-ed piece by Hoover Institute maven Henry I. Miller about once a year (see here, for example), claiming we need DDT to fight West Nile virus.  We don’t, of course.  West Nile virus-carrying mosquitoes are best fought with other pesticides, when pesticides are used.  They need to be hit before adulthood, while they are still larva, in the water.  DDT is exactly wrong for such applications.  But Miller’s piece comes around almost every year, as soon as the first West Nile virus infections in humans are noted.

So, since they so soundly disregard science on that diatribe, why not here, too?  DDT offers a great target for Tea Baggers, Know-Nothings, and truth bashers.  Most of the history of DDT was written before the internet, so it’s easier to spread falsehoods without contradiction.

Disinformation.  Propaganda.  Shame on the Wall Street Journal.

Earth Day and World Malaria Day are related in this way:  Environmentalists warned us that doing the wrong stuff in the environment would make it harder to fight malaria, and they were right.  People who resist clean air and clean water legislation also resist legislation to stop poisoning our planet.  Those people rarely do anything to fight malaria, either.  Human comfort, human health, human survival, is not what they are concerned about.

Earth Day founder Gaylord Nelson, a U.S. Senator from Wisconsin, was a leading opponent of the insecticide DDT, which remains the cheapest and most effective way to combat malarial mosquitoes.

Gaylord Nelson, the father of Earth Day, was governor of Wisconsin when the University of Wisconsin did the first studies showing that songbirds and raptors in Wisconsin were being wiped out by DDT. We should expect him to be an opponent of indiscriminate use of the stuff.  His state was on the road to ruin, and long before the federal government acted against DDT, Wisconsin had laws and regulations to limit its use.  Wisconsin’s wild populations recovered a bit more quickly because Wisconsin had acted.

Gaylord Nelson at the Apostle Islands, Photograph by Frank Wallick, 1967.

Gaylord Nelson at the Apostle Islands, Photograph by Frank Wallick, 1967.

Nelson also knew that, in the U.S., malaria was conquered by 1939 (according to the Centers for Disease Control).  DDT came along in 1946, seven years later.  While DDT was used to control mosquitoes in the U.S., it was for no disease control reasons — that was why so many people opposed the rather pointless use of the stuff.  And I suspect Nelson was savvy enough to know that DDT has not been the cheapest means of controlling mosquitoes for several years.  One application of DDT in Africa costs about $12.00, for the professional who must apply it, and the testing to determine whether DDT will even work.  One application lasts about six months.  So, for a year’s protection, DDT costs about $24.00 per house, per year.

Bednets cost about $10.00, and last about five years.  That works out to $2.00 year.  For $24.00, you could provide a dozen different nets in a home, though most homes would use them only to protect children.

Moreover, recent test runs in Africa show DDT about 25% to 50% effective in reducing malaria incidence, while bednets are about 50% to 85% effective.  Nets are cheaper and more effective.

Doesn’t the Wall Street Journal have fact checkers?  Or do they just not care about the facts?

Rachel Carson’s 1962 book, “Silent Spring,” misleadingly linked pesticides to cancer and is generally credited with popularizing environmental awareness.

Wrong on three fronts.  Carson noted that the family of chemicals from which DDT comes might have links to cancer, but she did not make the claim that DDT is carcinogenic.  DDT was banned because it’s a long-term, deadly poison that destroys ecosystems.  Cancer in humans was not a part of the equation.

However, DDT is now known to be a weak human carcinogen.  Every cancer-fighting agency on Earth lists it as a “probable human carcinogen” (it is confirmed to cause cancer in other mammals).  Can’t the Wall Street Journal find the phone number of the American Cancer Society?

DDT earned its ban because of 20 years of research data by 1972, showing that DDT kills virtually everything it comes in contact with that is smaller than a large man, and it destroys ecosystems.  Talking about DDT’s carcinogenicity is a red herring.  Carson didn’t claim DDT was a significant cause of cancer, nor was DDT banned from agricultural use because anyone thought it was a significant cause of cancer.  Yes, DDT is a weak human carcinogen, contrary to the Journal’s implication; but no, that’s not why it was banned.

Carson’s book certainly ignited concerns about human activities affecting environment other than land development.  But “environmental awareness” is as old as our nation, at least.  A hundred years prior to Rachel Carson’s book, the U.S. set aside the world’s first National Park, Yellowstone.  60 years earlier, Teddy Roosevelt and Gifford Pinchot led the drive to conserve the nation’s forests.  The Soil Conservation Service, a New Deal program, worked to save soil on farms and unimproved areas, a good 30 years before Carson’s book.  Environmental awareness is an almost-congenital trait in Americans.  Rachel Carson sounded alarms about new reactive chemical combinations.  Americans were already alert to the need to save soil, water, air and wild spaces.

We banned DDT to save our crops and to save our wildlife.  Those are good reasons to keep the ban today.

But other leading greens of the period, including Nelson, biologist Paul Ehrlich and ecologist Garrett Hardin, were also animated by a belief that growth in human populations was harming the environment.

Nelson thought the U.S. needed to slow immigration (see more below).  Ehrlich feared a massive round of starvation, which was staved off only with the Green Revolution and billions of dollars of foreign aid money, the good luck of our having Norman Borlaug and the Rockefeller Foundation, and major economic change in nation’s like India and China.  Hardin pointed out that even the best intentioned people needed a structure to encourage them to conserve, else conservation would not take place.

They all recognized that while any human could minimize her impact on the natural world, no one person could ameliorate all the effects of billions of people.

“The same powerful forces which create the crisis of air pollution also are threatening our freshwater resources, our woods, our wildlife,” said Nelson. “These forces are the rapid increase in population, industrialization, urbanization and scientific technology.”

Notice, please, that Sen. Nelson did not suggest humans should do anything to cause or encourage massive human death (nor did the Journal do the courtesy of noting where they quoted him from).  He merely notes that air pollution and water pollution, and a lack of freshwater, are created by human populations, industry, urban sprawl and technology.  All of these things threaten human health.  Nelson is concerned that we not add to human illness and misery.  That’s not what the Journal’s editorial wants you to think, however.  It will suggest instead that Nelson urged more human suffering and death.

How craven must an editorial board be to accuse good people, falsely, of such sins?

In his book “The Population Bomb,” Mr. Ehrlich criticized DDT for being too effective in reducing death rates and thus contributing to “overpopulation.”

I doubt it.  I can’t find anything quite to that description in my copy of the book.  It’s a common internet legend (one level dumber than urban legend) — but shouldn’t the Wall Street Journal have higher standards than to use for documentation, “my cousin Clem heard a story about a person his aunt once knew?”

Hardin opposed spraying pesticides in the Third World because “every life saved this year in a poor country diminishes the quality of life for subsequent generations.”

Now the Journal is making things up.  In the essay from which the Journal quotes him, Hardin wrote about the dangers of uncontrolled immigration and population growth — almost sounding like an angry Arizona Tea Partier at times — but never did he get close to suggesting that we should not suppress malaria, for any reason.  (Wise readers may wish to see what Hardin actually said, where he really went awry if he did, and how his words resonate today, at his essay, “Living on a Lifeboat.”  Writers at the Journal should be ashamed of savaging the reputation of a guy who is so much in tune with what they usually write.  Notice Hardin does not mention DDT, use of pesticides in foreign nations, malaria, nor any other disease.  He rails at starvation, however.)  When the Wall Street Journal engages in fiction, shouldn’t they let us know?

For these activists, malaria was nature’s way of controlling population growth, and DDT got in the way.

Gee, in context, that’s all fiction. Never did Sen. Gaylord Nelson claim malaria was a good population control tactic, nor that we should stop using DDT to allow more people to die. Those are whole cloth lies. Never did Garrett Hardin say either of those things. Never did Paul Ehrlich say those things.

Cover of 2003 Science Magazine special on Garrett Hardin's essay

Cover of 2003 Science Magazine special on Garrett Hardin’s essay, “Tragedy of the Commons”

For anti-science activists, like the writers at the Wall Street Journal’s editorial page, falsehoods have become coin of the realm, and DDT is just one more sciency thing to try to use as whip against political opponents. The serious question is, why is the Wall Street Journal opposed to clean air and clean water?  Why are they trying to politicize things at all?

The writers at the Journal continue:

Today, malaria still claims about one million lives every year—mostly women and children in sub-Saharan Africa. There’s no evidence that spraying the chemical inside homes in the amounts needed to combat the disease harms humans, animals or the environment. Yet DDT remains severely underutilized in the fight against malaria because the intellectual descendants of Senator Nelson continue to hold sway at the World Health Organization and other United Nations agencies.

Full disclosure would be good here.  Malaria death rates are at the lowest point in history, at least since 1900.  Yes, too many die — but it’s not the fault of “not enough DDT.”  No nation that uses DDT has ever succeeded in eradicating malaria with pesticides alone.  Only those nations that assaulted malaria from the  human side, treating malaria in human victims, have been successful in eradicating the disease.  DDT use was essentially suspended in Africa by the World Health Organization in about 1965, because overuse of DDT in agriculture had bred mosquitoes that are resistant and immune to the stuff.  No amount of DDT spraying, anywhere, can reverse that.  Spraying DDT where mosquitoes are unaffected by it, is stupid.

Plus, studies indicate a correlation between DDT use, even in those small amounts, and premature deaths to children in the households sprayed.  DDT is not harmless.  DDT is not benign.

DDT has never been banned in Africa, and even under the 2001 Persistent Organic Pesticides Treaty (POPs) DDT has a special carve out to keep it available to fight malaria, despite its being a destroyer of worlds.  So implicit in the Journal’s screed here is that Africans are too stupid or lazy to use a substance that would save their children and themselves from malaria, though it’s available relatively cheaply.

Is DDT “underutilized?”  Again we should ask, why would anyone use DDT where it is not effective? Then we should ask, who would use DDT in fighting disease in Africa, and do they use it?  It turns out that DDT is not completely superfluous to all mosquito populations.  But testing is required to be sure DDT will work — were an organization to use ineffective pesticides, thousands could die, and the testing is therefore a preservation of human life.  And, because of past incidents in Africa, for example when DDT killed off the fish local populations depend on for their food, DDT use is extremely limited, to indoor applications only, and only by trained professionals who limit its spread.

WHO has been using DDT in Africa for indoor residual spraying (IRS) since the 1950s.  Use was slowed when DDT’s effectiveness was compromised.  In recent years WHO held a press conference on DDT to encourage locals who fear DDT poisoning to go along, and since 2005 DDT’s effectiveness appears to be dropping.  But DDT is available for use wherever it is needed to fight malaria in Africa.

Is the Wall Street Journal calling for mass poisoning of Africa?  What else could they be talking about?  Why would they call for such a thing?

The Journal claims WHO and other UN agencies are “under the sway” of Sen. Nelson, and that’s bad?  Let’s be clear:  Nelson didn’t oppose use of DDT in Africa to fight malaria.  UN’s WHO is the leading continent-wide advocate of proper use of DDT to fight malaria.  If the Journal claims that current, appropriate use of DDT is too little, what is the Journal advocating?

The good news is that the Obama Administration has continued the Bush policy of supporting DDT spraying in Zambia, Mozambique and other countries where the locals want it used. “Groups like the Pesticide Action Network have lobbied the U.S. Agency for International Development to stop spraying DDT, and Obama is ignoring them so far,” says Richard Tren of Africa Fighting Malaria, an advocacy group. “They’re prioritizing what makes sense from a science and public health point of view.”

Let’s be clear:  The Bush administration refused to allow U.S. money to be used to purchase DDT, or to use DDT, until about 2005.  Environmental Defense, the organization that first sued to stop DDT use in the U.S., argued for years that DDT should be allowed in the limited use WHO proposed, but Bush’s people stood firmly opposed, though never explaining why.  In any African nation where local people want DDT, it’s freely available with other money, of course.  So U.S. opposition, bizarre as it was, was not and is not a barrier to DDT use.

Most environmental groups favor beating malaria, and if a bit of DDT carefully controlled will help do the trick, so much the better.  While business lobbyists have falsely impugned environmentalists for years on this point, actual opposition to DDT use has come, in Uganda for example, from business groups.  Tobacco growers claim they fear some DDT will somehow get on tobacco leaves, and that will make the stuff unsaleable in the European Union.  Cotton growers fear any faint traces of DDT will ruin sales of organic cotton to the EU.  These business groups sued to stop DDT use against malaria in Uganda.

But environmental organizations, like ED, the Sierra Club, and others, have been fighting malaria for 40 years.

Which is more than we can say for Richard Tren.  Tren is one of two or three of the leading false propagandists for poisoning Africa in the world.  He tells false tales about Rachel Carson, false tales about DDT’s harms and effectiveness, and as best I can tell he has never lifted one finger or written one check to fight malaria himself, while taking tens of thousands of dollars to spread his false tales.

There are dozens of noble malaria fighters out there whose opinions we should seek — Socrates Litsios, the late Fred Soper, to mention two.  Why does the formerly august Wall Street Journal use Richard Tren as a source, when there are authoritative people handy to talk?

DDT helped to eradicate malaria in the U.S. and Europe after World War II, and the U.S. is right to take the lead in reforming public health insecticide policy and putting the lives of the world’s poor above green ideology.

Printed in The Wall Street Journal, page A12

According to the history of malaria at the CDC, malaria was essentially wiped out in the U.S. by 1939.  DDT was not available for use for another seven years.  Malaria was gone from northern Europe by World War II.  DDT was a tool in the final eradication of the disease in Italy and Greece.  But the main campaign against malaria was in curing the disease in humans, before the mosquito populations could rise up.

Among the nasty facts of science the Journal either does not know, or refuses to say, DDT can’t eradicate mosquitoes.  In anti-malaria campaigns, DDT is used to knock down the mosquito populations temporarily, so that the disease can be cured in humans.  Mosquito populations will quickly rise again, and in even greater numbers — but if there is no human reservoir of malaria parasites for mosquitoes to draw from, they cannot spread the disease.  Malaria parasites must spend part of their life cycle in humans, and part in mosquitoes.

Curing malaria in humans is the tough part.  It requires money to improve medical care, for accurate and speedy diagnoses, and for prompt and complete treatment of the disease in each patient.  Preventing malaria is aided greatly by better-built homes with screens on windows, the sort of stuff that requires people to have more than subsistence incomes.  So beating malaria generally requires economic development, too.

How much easier is it to bash environmentalists than to confront the real causes of malaria.  Bashing environmentalists won’t do anything to relieve human suffering nor eliminate the disease, so we can bash environmentalists again next World Malaria Day, and next Earth Day — all at no cost to us, safe in our Wall Street Journal offices in Manhattan, New York, U.S.A.  The Journal has fallen victim to bold purveyors of junk and voodoo science, and bogus and voodoo history.  Shame on the Journal.

Curing the disease in humans means the mosquitoes are mere nuisances, and no longer vectors of disease.  Killing the mosquitoes with poison means the disease will be back with a vengeance in a few weeks or months.  Curing humans is more difficult, and more costly — but it saves lives and can save Africa.  We cannot poison Africa to health.

It’s curious, though:  How did they get so poisoned by DDT, up in that office building?


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Decline and fall of the Wall Street Journal — DDT poisoning to blame?

April 27, 2010

Rupert Murdoch’s purchase of the Wall Street Journal provoked groans in 2007, but especially among those of us who had dealt with the news teams of the paper over the previous couple of decades.

For good reason, we now know.  An opposite-editorial page article in the European edition shows why.

Wall Street Journal images - Gothamite New York image

Richard Tren and Donald Roberts, two anti-environmentalist, anti-science lobbyists, wrote a slam at scientists, environmentalists, malaria fighters and the UN, making false claims that these people somehow botched the handling of DDT and allowed a lot of children to die.  Tren, Roberts and the Wall Street Journal should be happy to know that their targeting essentially public figures, probably protects them from libel suits.

Most seriously, the article just gets the facts wrong.  Facts of science and history — easily checked — are simply stated erroneously.  Sometimes the statements are so greatly at odds with the facts, one might wonder if there was malignant intent to skew history and science.

This is journalistic and newspaper malpractice.  Any national journal, like the WSJ, should have fact checkers to check out at least the basic claims of op-ed writers.  Did Murdock fire them all?  How can anyone trust any opinion expressed at the Journal when these guys get away with a yahoo-worthy, fact-challenged piece like this one?

Tren and Roberts make astounding errors of time and place, attributing to DDT magical powers to cross space and time.  What are they thinking?  Here are some of the errors the Journals fact checkers should have caught — did Murdoch fire all the fact checkers?

  1. Beating malaria is not a question of having scientific know howCuring a disease in humans requires medical delivery systems that can diagnose and treat the disease.  DDT does nothing on those scores.  Beating malaria is a question of will and consistency, political will to create the human institutions to do the job.  DDT can’t help there.
  2. DDT wasn’t the tool used to eradicate malaria from the U.S.  The U.S. Centers for Disease Control — an agency set up specifically to fight diseases like malaria — says malaria was effectively eradicated from the U.S. in 1939.  DDT’s pesticide capabilities were discovered in mid-1939, but DDT was not available to fight malaria, for civilians, for another seven years.  DDT does not time travel.
  3. DDT doesn’t have a great track record beating malaria, anywhere. Among nations that have beaten malaria, including the U.S., the chief tools used were other than pesticides.  Among nations where DDT is still used, malaria is endemic.  DDT helped, but there is no place on Earth that beat malaria solely by spraying to kill mosquitoes.  Any malaria fighter will tell you that more must be done, especially in improving medical care, and in creating barriers to keep mosquitoes from biting.
  4. Beating malaria in the U.S. involved draining breeding areas, screening windows to stop mosquitoes from entering homes, and boosting medical care and public health efforts. These methods are the only methods that have worked, over time, to defeat malaria.  Pesticides can help in a well-managed malaria eradication campaign, but no campaign based on spraying pesticides has ever done more than provide a temporary respite against malaria.
  5. DDT is not a magic bullet against malaria. Nations that have used DDT continuously and constantly since 1946, like Mexico, and almost like South Africa, have the same malaria problems other nations have.  Nations that have banned DDT have no malaria.
  6. DDT has never been banned across most of the planet.  Even under the pesticide treaty that specifically targets DDT-classes of pesticides for phase out, there is a special exception for DDT.  DDT was manufactured in the U.S. long after it was banned for agricultural use, and it is manufactured today in India and China.  It is freely available to any government who wishes to use it.
  7. People in malaria-prone areas are not stupid. Tren and Roberts expect you to believe that people in malaria-prone nations are too stupid to buy cheap DDT and use it to save their children, but instead require people like Tren and Roberts to tell them what to do.  That’s a pretty foul argument on its face.
  8. DDT is a dangerous poison, uncontrollable in the wild. Tren and Roberts suggest that DDT is relatively harmless, and that people were foolish to be concerned about it.  They ignore the two federal trials that established DDT was harmful, and the court orders under which EPA (dragging its feet) compiled a record of DDT’s destructive potential thousands of pages long.  They ignore the massive fishkills in Texas and Oklahoma, they ignore the astounding damage to reproduction of birds, and the bioaccumulation quality of the stuff, which means that all living things accumulate larger doses as DDT rises through the trophic levels of the food chain.  Predatory birds in American estuaries got doses of DDT multiplied millions of times over what was applied to be toxic to the smallest organisms.
    DDT was banned in the U.S. because it destroys entire ecosystems.  The U.S. ban prohibited its use on agriculture crops, but allowed use to fight malaria or other diseases, or for other emergencies.  Under these emergency rules, DDT was used to fight the tussock moth infestation in western U.S. forests in the 1970s.
  9. Again, DDT’s ban in the U.S. was not based on a threat to human health. DDT was banned because it destroys natural ecosystems. So any claim that human health effects are not large, misses the point.  However, we should not forget that DDT is a known carcinogen to mammals (humans are mammals).  DDT is listed as a “probable human carcinogen” by the American Cancer Society and every other cancer-fighting agency on Earth.  Why didn’t the Journal’s fact checkers bother to call their local cancer society?  DDT is implicated as a threat to human health, as a poison, as a carcinogen, and as an endocrine disruptor.  Continued research since 1972 has only confirmed that DDT poses unknown, but most likely significant threats to human health.  No study has ever been done that found DDT to be safe to humans.
  10. Use of DDT — or rather, overuse of DDT — frequently has led to more malaria. DDT forces rapid evolution of mosquitoes.  They evolve defenses to the stuff, so that future generations are resistant or even totally immune to DDT.  Increasing DDT use often leads to an increase in malaria.
  11. Slandering the World Health Organization (WHO), Rachel Carson, the thousands of physicians in Africa and Asia who fight malaria, or environmentalists who have exposed the dangers of DDT, does nothing to help save anyone from malaria.

Tren and Roberts have a new book out, a history of DDT.  I suspect that much of the good they have to say about DDT is true and accurate.  Their distortions of history, and their refusal to look at the mountain of science evidence that warns of DDT’s dangers is all the more puzzling.

No world class journal should allow such an ill-researched piece to appear, even as an opinion.  Somebody should have done some fact checking, and made those corrections before the piece hit publication.

Full text of the WSJ piece below the fold.

Read the rest of this entry »

World Malaria Day, 2010 – April 25

April 18, 2010

April 25, 2010, is World Malaria Day.

Malaria plagues too many nations, still.  Between 400 million and 500 million people in the world get infected with one form of the malaria parasites every year.  About a million die, most of those children.  Death disproportionately strikes pregnant women, too.

Life cycle of malaria, from the World Health Organization (WHO)

World Health Organization (WHO) chart on the life cycle of malaria

Advances in medicines and advances in controls of the insects that help transmit the disease led to several campaigns to eradicate the disease over the past 60 years.  Malaria no longer torments most of Europe and most of North America, but it remains a serious, economy-crippling disease across Africa and Asia.

Malaria also poses as a political football.  Over the next couple of weeks you can find dozens of articles on valiant efforts to fight malaria, including the RollBack Malaria Campaign, and efforts by the Gates Foundation and histories of the work of the Rockefeller Foundation.  But you can also find a pernicious political campaign against malaria fighters and “environmentalists,” claiming that DDT is a magic potion that could have ridded the world of malaria by killing off all the mosquitoes, if only that great mass murderer, Rachel Carson, had not imposed her will on the unstable dictators of African nations who did all they could to prove to Ms. Carson that they were environmentally friendly by banning DDT.

All of that is a crock.  But we see it every year.

It’s already shown up in the formerly-known-as-accurate Wall Street Journal, European edition.  (Please watch — I may have more to say on that piece, later.)

Over the next two weeks I will ask myself a hundred times, why do these people fiddle with trying to impugn scientists, physicians and environmentalists, while fevers burn in the brains of children across Africa and Asia?

With action, hope is that we can save the million lives lost annually by stopping malaria, by 2015.  Please consider joining the effort.

You should wonder about that, too.  If you find a good answer, please let me know.

Roll Back Malaria World Malaria Day 2009

Annals of malaria fighting: 863,000 malaria deaths in 2008

January 10, 2010

From World Health Organization statistics, World Malaria Report 2009:

* Half of the world’s population is at risk of malaria
* An estimated 243 million malaria cases occurred in 2008
* An estimated 863 000 malaria deaths occurred in 2008; 767 000 of those (89%) occurred in Africa.

Nathan Wolfe’s jungle search for viruses | Video on (Why it’s important to beat H1N1, now)

November 29, 2009

Here’s Nathan Wolfe explaining how viruses work, quickly and at a high enough level to be entertaining, and explaining why we need to worry about H1N1.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

more about “Nathan Wolfe’s jungle search for viru…“, posted with vodpod

Wolfe also explained a lot at the TED Blog:

Take us back a step or two: How did swine flu enter into the human population?

Swine flu has been known since at least the early part of the 20th century, since the 1930s. It was originally a virus of bird origin — all influenza viruses were originally bird viruses — and it probably spread to humans before it was in pigs.

Now, we still haven’t received definitive information on the underlying genetics of this particular virus. But initial reports suggest that it may be what’s known as a “mosaic virus,” which includes components of swine influenzas, bird influenzas and human influenzas. A cosmopolitan virus like that wouldn’t be unprecedented. (Editor’s Note: see Joe DeRisi’s 2006 TEDTalk for more on state-of-the-art virus detection.)

But in any case, this is a virus that appears to come from pigs, and pigs in close proximity spread the flu in much the same way that humans do — coughing, sneezing, and so on. The virus probably initially entered into human populations through people who work with livestock.

Is swine flu here to stay?

Whether this particular virus will sustain itself and become a permanent part of the human landscape is unclear, but that’s certainly what we’re watching for. As it is, the virus may just disappear because of the weather; summers aren’t good for flu viruses.

So this heat wave is working in our favor?

It might be. The virus has had a good start, from the flu perspective, considering that this is really the end of the season. But the unseasonably hot weather may bode poorly for this virus’ potential to establish itself definitively and cause a pandemic. Had this happened in September or October, it would be much more concerning.

Having said that, it’s not impossible that a virus like this might “go into hiding” — in the southern hemisphere or the tropics — and might come to light again next year. So there will be a lot of discussion about expanding the fall flu vaccine to try to control it next cycle.

Is it really possible for us to prevent future outbreaks like this?

Yes, I believe it is. We spend tons of money trying to predict complex phenomena like tsunamis, hurricanes, earthquakes. There’s no reason to believe that a pandemic is harder to predict than a tsunami. And we’d be foolish not to include forecasting and prevention as part of our overall portfolio to fight these pandemics.

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“Not Evil, Just Wrong” opens to thunderous silence

October 24, 2009

It’s the air conditioning one hears, not applause.

Did your local newspaper review the movie?  Odds are the movie didn’t play in your town (did it play anywhere other than local Republican clubs?).

“Not Evil, Just Wrong” promoters and producers appear to have abandoned hopes for a wide-scale debut of their film on October 18, instead choosing direct-to-DVD release in order to salvage something from the effort.

Well, they can take solace in the fact that the John Birch Society, itself trying to rise from the dead, liked the film according to the comments in The New American.  But even the Birch Society reviewer watched it on DVD, not on a big screen.

At the Birch Society site I responded, and will be astounded to see if it stays (in three parts).  The review started out noting that if one asks a friend to explain the cap-and-trade system of controlling carbon air emissions, one is not likely to find that one’s friend fully understands the ins and outs of government regulation of air pollution, commodities markets, and deep economics (why should they?).

Ask a friend or associate, “Can you explain ‘cap and trade?’” More than likely you will be astounded at what a poor grasp (if any) he or she has of the subject, even though the future of our economy and even our country hinges to a large extent on whether or not cap-and-trade legislation passes or not.

I said:

Ask a friend to explain the right to bear arms, and you’re likely to get a bad explanation, too.

Does that mean the Second Amendment is evil?  I don’t think so.

This movie [“Not Evil, Just Wrong”] is greatly riddled with errors, and it presents a false portrait of science, history, and government.

For example:

In one scene that made one want to throw bottles at the TV set, a well-to-do environmentalist showed no concern to a Ugandan mother, Fiona Kobusingye-Boynes, over the loss of her child to malaria, a disease that was almost eliminated by the use of DDT, but then resurged when the EPA banned DDT’s exportation and insisted other countries adopt the same policy.

When DDT was heavily used in Africa, about two million people a year died from the disease.  Today?  About one million die.  The rates aren’t low enough, but does the movie need to lie about history to make a point?  Why?

Malaria was never close to being eliminated with DDT.  Most of the nations that got rid of malaria did it with the combination of better housing (with screens), better health care, and concentrated programs to attack mosquitoes to hold populations down long enough that the pool of malaria in humans could be wiped out.  Mosquitoes get malaria from humans — if there is no malaria in humans, mosquito bites are benign.

DDT was never used in an eradication effort in most nations of Africa, because the governments were unable to get a campaign to fight the disease on all fronts as necessary.  Do we know whether DDT was used in Uganda prior to 1967?

And if it was, are we really supposed to believe that Idi Amin refused to use DDT out of respect for little birdies and fishies, while killing and [it is often said] personally eating his countrymen?

I don’t think that environmentalists are the root of the problem in today’s malaria rates in Uganda, and any perusal of history suggests a dozen other culprits who could not be considered lesser threats by any stretch.

Now the death toll of malaria victims worldwide, but mainly in Third World countries, mostly young children, is estimated by the World Health Organization to be one million per year.

Near the lowest in 200 years.

Recently the World Health Organization, under strong pressure from human rights organizations, particularly in Africa and Asia, rescinded its ban on the pesticide that has been shown in test after test to be harmless to humans and animals, including birds.

WHO never had a ban on the use of DDT.  DDT didn’t work well.  It’s foolish to require malaria fighting agencies to use tools that don’t work.  [Ooooh.  I forgot to note the junk science claim that DDT is harmless to humans and animals — were it harmless, why should we use it?  It’s odd to see the John Birch Society organ campaigning so actively to kill America’s symbol, the bald eagle.  Are they really that evil, or just that poorly informed?]

The environmentalists continue to push to overturn this ruling, regardless of its toll in human misery and death.

[Gee. I should have responded, “The environmentalists continue to push this goal even as malaria deaths and infections drop — regardless the improvement in human health and reduction of misery and death.”]

Environmentalists have been lobbying since 1998 to allow DDT use in extremely limited circumstances, with controls to protect human health (the National Academy of Sciences notes that DDT, though among the most useful substances ever created, is more dangerous than helpful, and must be eliminated). [I should have noted here, “Opposition came from the George W. Bush administration.”]  In the past three years opposition to DDT use in Uganda has come from large agricultural companies, tobacco growers and unnamed groups of “businessmen” who sued to stop DDT use.

Africans have been free to use DDT since the substance’s discovery, and some nations used it extensively throughout the period since 1946.  Interestingly, they also experienced a resurgence of malaria anyway. If Africans want to use DDT, let them use it.

In the interim, tests across Africa demonstrate that bed nets are more effective than DDT, and cheaper.  DDT alone cannot help Africa much; bed nets alone help a lot.  But eradicating malaria will require great improvements in the delivery of health care to quickly and properly diagnose malaria, and provide complete treatments of the disease in humans to wipe out the pool of disease from which the little bloodsuckers get it in the first place.

This film is not interested in helping Africans, however.  The film’s producers are interested in trying to make hay besmirching the reputations of people who campaign for a clean environment.

How long is this film?  90 minutes, IMDB saysUNICEF notes that a child dies from malaria every 30 seconds.  So while you watch this film, 180 children will die from malaria, and you will have done absolutely nothing to stop the next one from dying.

Send $10 to Nothing But Nets instead.

Look at it this way:  Every sale of the DVD of “Not Evil, Just Wrong,” deprives Nothing But Nets of a donation of two more life-saving bed nets.  So every sale of this DVD more than doubles the chances that another kid in Africa will die from malaria.

Help ban ignorance about world affairs:

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Monckton lies again (and again, and again, and again, and again . . .)! The continuing saga of a practicer of fictional science

October 18, 2009

When Monckton claimed that Jackie Kennedy was responsible for malaria in Africa, I thought it a great stretch.

Holy cow!  Monckton gave a speech in Minnesota, and if this quote is representative, it was a one man re-enactment of the Burlington Liar’s Club quarterfinals for 2002 through 2008 (he was disqualified for lack of humor).  Monckton spoke at Bethel University in St. Paul on October 15, 2009:

Here is an excerpt from his speech:

Here is why the truth matters. It was all very well for jesting Pilate to ask that question and then not to tarry for an answer. But that question that he asked, “what is the truth?” is the question which underlies every question and in the end it is the only question that really matters. When you ask that question what you are really asking is “what is the truth about the matter?” And we are now going to see why it matters morally, socially, and politically, as well as economically and scientifically. That the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth should inform public policy on this question. Now, 40 years ago, DDT, the only effective agent against the malaria mosquito was banned. And you saw in that film [Cascade Policy Institute film “Climate Chains” was shown prior –ed] what the effect of that ban was. Before the ban, the inventor of DDT got the Nobel Peace Prize because he had saved more lives than anyone else in the history of the planet. Malaria, one of the greatest killers of children in the Third World had all but been eradicated. There were still 50,000 deaths per year. But when DDT was banned by exactly the same faction, that is now trying to tell us we must close down five sixths of the United States economy that figure is actually in the Waxman- Markey bill. That same faction banned DDT worldwide. The consequences are on the slide there. The number of deaths went up from 50,000 to a million a year and stayed there. For 40 years. 40 million people, nearly all of them children, died of malaria solely and simply because DDT had been banned for no good scientific reason or environmental reason whatsoever. And it was only after every single one of the people responsible for that dismal, murderous decision had retired or died that on September the 15th 2006, Dr. Arata Kochi of the World Health Organization said “Normally in this field, science comes second and politics comes first. But we will now take a stand on the science and the data, and he ended that ban on DDT and made it once again the front line of defense against the malaria mosquito. After pressure from me, among others.

Right there Monckton disqualified himself from ever being a Boy Scout with egregious disregard for the first point of the Scout Law. Oh, Monckton is dependable, but dependable only to tell falsehoods and stink up the place.  That excerpt provides the Recommended Annual Dose of both voodoo science and voodoo history.  Count the problems with me:

1.  DDT has never been the only effective means to fight malaria-carrying mosquitoes. DDT was  a very effective pesticide, though dangerous — but never the “only effective agent against the malaria mosquito.”  The U.S., for one example beat malaria (and yellow fever, and other mosquito-borne diseases) well enough to finish the Panama Canal in 1915 without DDT, by controlling mosquito breeding areas and using screens to protect sleeping workers from mosquitoes.  Malaria, once endemic in much of the U.S., was practically eliminated by 1939.  DDT was used in limited fashion to complete the eradication in the U.S., after World War II — but most of the work had already been done.  The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) (founded to control malaria) relates at its website:

Control efforts conducted by the state and local health departments, supported by the federal government, resulted in the disease being eradicated by 1949. Such measures included drainage, removal of mosquito breeding sites, and spraying (occasionally from aircrafts) of insecticides.

Aircraft spraying insecticide,  1920's
Aircraft spraying insecticide, 1920s
Drainage activities, Virginia, 1920's
Drainage activities, Virginia, 1920s

We still have the non-pesticide solutions, and they still work.  But 40 years ago, there were other pesticides that worked against the malaria vector mosquitoes.

The national library of the ancient Kingdom of Ghana had volumes on how to eradicate malaria, more than 500 years ago.  Monckton can’t even be bothered to Google the topic, let alone visit one of America’s more than 15,000 free county libraries, to get the facts?

2.  No Nobel Peace Prize was ever given for DDT, and the prize given wasn’t for saving malaria victims. Paul Müller won the Nobel in Physiology or Medicine in 1948, for his discovery that DDT killed insects.  There was no Peace Prize awarded in 1948.  A chemist working in biological chemicals won the Peace Nobel later — but it was Linus Pauling, who won in 1962 for his work against the proliferation of nuclear weapons.  [UPDATE:  Listening to Monckton’s speech, I note that the transcriber made a serious error.  Monckton did not specify the Nobel Peace Prize; it is still true that the Medicine Prize that Müller won was not on the basis of DDT’s saving an uncountable number of lives.  The chief medical advantage cited was the use of DDT fighting typhus; malaria gets a mention.  Monckton can’t be bothered with accuracy on such things, however, as is clearly shown.]

The bizarre claim about saving “more lives than anyone else in the history of the planet” comes from a wacko claim of the Lyndon Larouche cult, apparently based on a typographical error in a 1980 book from the National Academy of Sciences.

3.  Malaria rates have been greatly reduced in the 20th century, but malaria has never been “all but eradicated.” In the past 120 years, malaria has always killed more than 900,000 people a year; for most of the past 60 years, the death toll has been more than a million people a year, sometimes as high as 4 million people killed.  Annual malaria deaths have never been under a half million, let alone as low as 50,000.

4.  DDT has never been banned for use to control malaria. 40 years ago, in 1969, DDT was freely available world wide.  Sweden banned the stuff from agricultural use in 1970; the U.S. followed with a ban on agricultural use of DDT, especially sprayed from airplanes.  DDT for fighting malaria has always been a feature of the U.S. ban.  As a pragmatic matter, DDT manufacture on U.S. shores continued for more than a dozen years after the restrictions on agricultural use of the stuff.  In an ominous twist, manufacture in the U.S. continued through most of 1984, right up to the day the Superfund Act made it illegal to dump hazardous substances without having a plan to clean it up or money to pay for clean up — on that day the remaining manufacturing interests declared bankruptcy to avoid paying for the environmental damage they had done.  See the Pine River, Michigan Superfund site, or the Palos Verdes and Montrose Chemical Superfund sites in California,  the CIBA-Geigy plant in McIntosh, Alabama, and sites in Sand Creek, Colorado, Portland, Oregon, and Aberdeen, North Carolina, for examples.

5.  Nothing in Waxman-Markey anticipates closing down any part of the U.S. economy. This is a claim Monckton appears to have plucked from between his gluteals.  Here’s one summary of the bill (notice the money allocated to boost industry), here’s another, and here’s the summary from the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

6.  There’s no way to blame malaria deaths on a lack of DDT. As noted, DDT has been available for use in Africa and Asia since its patent.  More importantly, malaria death rates have been influenced by the failure of effectiveness of pharmaceuticals against the malaria parasite itself in humans.  DDT fights only the mosquitoes that carry the parasite.  But the difficulty wasn’t in beating the mosquitoes; the difficulty was in curing humans (from whom the mosquitoes get the parasite to pass along).

7.  DDT was restricted on the basis of overwhelming evidence of harms. This is one of those charges that is self-refuting in the hands of DDT advocates and anti-science people.  You don’t have to go far to find claims that EPA acted contrary to an extensive hearing record that took months to compose.  But then they turn around and claim, as Monckton does here, that there is no such record?  The facts are that the Environmental Protection Administration (EPA) hearings were conducted under the gun.  Two different federal courts had ordered the review, which had been started with the Department of Agriculture before the creation of EPA.  The hearing record itself fell out of favor with some officials, and even EPA’s library had difficulty finding a copy of the decision by Administrative Law Judge Edmund Sweeney — but intrepid fact seekers like Jim Easter tracked down the documents and posted them for all to see.  Easter notes that the record is clear on harms to wildlife, bio-magnification, and other dangers of DDT.  In fact, the only place Ruckelshaus differed from Sweeney was on the issue of cotton.  Sweeney thought he couldn’t prohibit use on cotton, Ruckelshaus found authority in the law and did so.

Be clear:  EPA banned DDT use on agricultural products, especially cotton, and broadcast spraying.  EPA’s “ban” allowed continued manufacture of DDT, and it allowed use for health emergencies and other emergencies.

8.  There never was a ban on DDT by the World Health Organization (WHO). So Monckton’s bizarre fiction that “. . . it was only after every single one of the people responsible for that dismal, murderous decision had retired or died that on September the 15th 2006, Dr. Arata Kochi of the World Health Organization said normally in this field, science comes second and politics comes first,” and then Kochi ended the ban, is whole cloth.

9.  There is no evidence anybody ever paid any attention to Monckton on DDT, but Monckton took credit for the imaginary end of the imaginary ban: ” After pressure from me, among others.”  There’s a distant possibility that Monckton might have written a letter to WHO — but let Monckton produce the thing from the archives of WHO.  Until that time, we should classify Monckton as an emboldened prevaricator, perhaps a victim of Munchausen’s Syndrome (not by proxy in this case).   I’m calling Monckton’s bluff.   Let’s see his cards on this issue:  When did he say anything to WHO about DDT, to whom, and what did he say?  He’ll not be able to produce any documentation, I’ll wager — and I’ll bet he can’t even produce hearsay testimony.

Nine falsehoods in a paragraph — a rate of falsehood not equalled even by Jon Lovitz’s pathological liar character. What is wrong with the excrement detectors of the people who sit in those audiences with this guy?

How far out of bounds is Monckton?  Even the shrill discussion at Little Green Footballs puts Monckton in the not-to-be-taken-seriously category.

Monckton, the Burlington Liars Club called:  They want their good reputation back.  Check your answering machine, too — the Bethel College group should be calling any minuted, to ask you to pay for the exorcism of their building after you spoke there.

By the way, how do we know Monckton is a coward?*  He has refused to debate me.  As he notes, anyone who refuses a debate is a coward.  And yet, he refuses each of my challenges.  Now he’s refusing to debate a Tenderfoot Boy Scout using Boy Scout Law rules.  How much of a coward does that make him?


* Of course that logic is flawed.  But he uses it against Al Gore.  Monckton can’t get Gore to suffer him, and so, Monckton, a moral pipsqueak, calls Gore a coward.  The “Freemarket Institute” people ate it up.  It’s more likely that Gore simply refuses to get into a urination contest with a known skunk.  Still, Monckton refuses to debate — what is he afraid of?

No lie!

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