While the World Health Organization (WHO) reported yesterday that confirmed malaria cases in 11 African nations dropped by more than fifty percent over the last decade, these results were mitigated by a number of less welcome findings.
First, improvements in many other places were far more modest, and three African countries saw jumps in confirmed cases: Rwanda, Sao Tome and Principe and Zambia. Thus, the actual number of reported malaria deaths worldwide only fell by a little more than twenty percent — from 985,000 in 2000 to 781,000 in 2009. Second, while the number of people in sub-Saharan Africa protected by insecticide-treated mosquito nets (ITNs) rose, and there are now enough nets to guard 578 million people at risk, many people still can’t afford them, and the nets can and do fall apart over time, notes Dr. Ross. Further, most of the ITNs utilize pyrethroids, a type of insecticide that is not as potent as DDT and also tends to induce more resistant organisms.
He asks: “Why is there still this superstition about DDT? Spraying DDT is safe, and it’s the cheapest and most effective way to prevent malaria — and save lives.”
As has been widely documented, elimination of DDT as an anti-malaria agent directly correlates with malaria’s resurgence; by contrast, between 1993 and 1995, when Ecuador boosted its use of DDT spraying, malaria rates promptly declined 61 percent. Yet environmental groups have succeeded in imposing worldwide treaties broadly proscribing its use.
Superstition manifests in many forms.