Acton Institute Powerblog

Let Us Spray: Fighting Malaria

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An article in today’s New York Times, “Push for New Tactics as War on Malaria Falters,” coincides nicely with Acton’s newest ad campaign (see the back cover of the July 1 issue of World). The article attacks government mismanagement of allocated funds in the global fight against malaria. Celia Dugger, the author, writes:

Only 1 percent of the [United States Agency for International Development’s] 2004 malaria budget went for medicines, 1 percent for insecticides and 6 percent for mosquito nets. The rest was spent on research, education, evaluation, administration and other costs.

The game is now changing, however. The White House has initaited new campaigns, boosting allocation for medicines, insecticides, and mosquito nets to over 40% of the agency’s total malaria budget. The new government push is also raising awareness among private donors, including the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Acton has begun a media campaign to raise awareness of available and economically sound solutions to the malaria epidemic. Among possible solutions is the indoor residual spraying of insecticides, including DDT (proven to be highly effective and safe in South Africa), distribution of treated mosquito nets, distribution of medication, and educational programs that explain where malaria comes from and how to avoid it.

Visit our Impact Malaria page for more reading and for links to get involved in the global fight against malaria.

Jonathan Spalink


  • Geoffrey Johnson

    Acton’s ad states, “We have a safe, powerful and available weapon to fight malaria — but we’re not using it.”

    That’s nice copy, but — like most marketing — it’s not true.

    While Acton is busy raising awareness about DDT, why not mention that its use to fight malaria and other vector-related health threats is explicitly allowed, indefinitely, under the Stockholm Convention? Or that USAID and the WHO advocate its use for that purpose? Or that the UN, to achieve the Millennium Goals countering malaria, is already planning a massive distribution of DDT-treated mosquito nets? In many cases, those nets are not just a less toxic, but also a less expensive alternative to indoor spraying.

    How Acton could ignore these central facts is a mystery to me, unless your awareness campaign is a premise to condemn pesticide critics as enemies of African children. Which reminds me, if DDT’s toxicity to humans has been, as Acton’s ad asserts, “debunked,” why does the EPA continue to classify it as a probable human carcinogen?

    I might support the free-market use of DDT, provided its consumers were given honest information about its health risks, rather than the denialist claims that its manufacturers have repeated for nearly 50 years, and which Acton still echoes today.

  • Geoffrey, DDT is not used to imprenate mosquito nets; pyrethroids are. These nets are not less toxic because DDT is not toxic at all. No peer-reviewed scientific publication has ever reliably been able to show that DDT is harmful to humans.

    USAID and WHO have not “advocated” for its use, as you claim. When Acton states that DDT is “not being used,” they are referring to the fact that USAID and WHO have used the elastic clause in the Stockholm Treaty, which stipulates that DDT can only be used for public health when every other available means is exhausted, to discourage and deny its use by most recipient governments. USAID changed its tune in December of last year, promising a more pro-active stance on DDT. WHO will shortly be releasing revised IRS guidelines that say as much and hopefully more.

    The EPA continues to declare DDT – along with coffee – a probable human carcinogen because its reputation is on the line. Even if you ignore the fact that DDT has been sprayed in millions of homes over the past sixty years without evidence of a single scientifically corroborated case of human cancer – not even one – you can’t ignore the fact that EPA head William Ruckelshaus banned DDT in 1971 based on politics and not science. Judge Edmund Sweeney reviewed over 9,000 pages of research on DDT and ruled it to be safe for humans and not destructive for aquatic environments or bird populations. Ruckelshaus overturned Sweeney’s decision even though he didn’t attend the hearings and unilaterally declared DDT to be a grave potential threat that required pre-emptive action.

    Like the WWF and other environmentalist groups, the EPA is loath to admit that one of their seminal victories for the environmental movement was not only a farce but lead to many preventable deaths as far as malaria is concerned.

  • Geoffrey Johnson


    I appreciate your correction about the type of pesticide applied to mosquito nets.

    On the other hand, you twist my words, albeit subtly, with regard to the WHO and USAID. Since they favor the use of DDT to certain ends, I think it’s fair to say that they “advocate” its use to those ends. I would not have written “advocate for” its use, which implies a one-sided position that does not exist, and that I would not intend to represent.

    Thank you for running down the details of the Stockholm Convention for me. Alas, I was already aware of them; the point of my post was to wonder why Acton is and has been, reluctant to make Stockholm Convention familiar to its readers. I don’t find it acceptable that, as you explain, when Acton states that DDT is “not being used,” it means that DDT is being used only conditionally. To me, those meanings are not the same. I would go so far as to say they are contradictory.

    True, in a certain, skewed sense, DDT has not been proved to cause a single, or, more appropriate, particular case of cancer. Only someone unfamiliar with the basic tenets of toxicology (or else exploiting other people’s unfamiliarity) would use this “fact” as to label DDT harmless. And to put a pesticide in league with coffee, directly or by easy implication, is absurd. The EPA is not perfect in its classifications — see its stubbornness deem carbon dioxide a pollutant, which would be but a precursor to emissions caps — but I take them with fewer grains of salt than I do your your review of the Ruckelshaus decision, which overturned Sweeney in light of competing scientific evidence. No doubt politics played a part, but let’s not forget, selectively, that science was in the arena too.

    Finally, if you are willing to dismiss the environmental movement’s emblematic victory against pesticide manufacturers as a “farce,” despite existing, if inconclusive evidence of DDT threat to human life, then I wonder how you, and your colleagues at Africa Fighting Malaria, would describe the fossil fuel industry’s victory against would-be regulators of greenhouse gases? As malarial zones expand upwards and outwards in warmer temperatures, may I ask what Africa Fighting Malaria is doing to stop it?

  • Now YOU are twisting my words like a party clown making balloon animals for children, but I too appreciate your sentiments, my friend. I can’t speak for Acton beyond my original comments. What I don’t appreciate is your taking for granted the relationship between climate change and malaria incidence. Paul Reiter at the Pasteur Institute will gladly educate you on the matter if you are interested. Start [url=]here[/url] and contact him directly with questions.

  • db

    Article out on a study that shows an impact to robin brains from high levels of DDT. Trying to track down the study to see how dubious the data is.

    Link to it at today.


  • bryan

    I tend to agree with anyone arguing for DDT because of the clear political motivation surrounding its ban and i will not get into references or specific sources because i don’t have time for that but i will just say this: I used to work for the EPA, and to say that they are “not always perfect in their classifications” is a gross understatement. My signature is on plenty of documents by a forced hand of a superior. I am not proud of that but i can say there is almost no level of genuine science surrounding anything that the EPA does. Everything we did was usually politically or public relations oriented and rarely based in any sort of scientific necessity.

    Again, i don’t remember the names exactly but i was reading and article the other day where one of the driving forces behind the WHO’s continued reluctance towards DDT is an influential primary shareholder in Bayer, a company which just so happens to manufacture far more expensive alternatives to DDT…… coincidence??? I think not

    Politics always have been, and will continue to be, the primary source of human suffering anywhere in the world.