Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Hope for Haiti

Spraying DDT in 1958 as part of The United States' National Malaria Eradication Program

The source article for this post should be considered an editorial, and it expresses the opinions of Henry I Miller.

Is there a hope for Haiti?

"On top of the almost unimaginable devastation caused by January's earthquake in Haiti, the nation is bracing for the ravages of the rainy season." Torrential downpours already flood homes and turn "tent cities into muddy misery. Ominously, the number of cases of malaria, which is spread by the bite of mosquitoes and which was endemic in Haiti even before the earthquake, is increasing."

Aid groups plan to distribute over three million bed nets in order to minimize the number of malaria cases. However, this "ultra-low-tech" solution stands as "only modestly effective intervention". "What is really needed is the chemical DDT, an old, cheap and safe tool to control the vector -- the Anopheles mosquito -- that spreads the disease."

"Malaria is a scourge of humanity, particularly for the inhabitants of poor tropical countries." Over forty percent of the world's population lives at-risk for contracting malaria. 350 to 500 million cases of malaria occur worldwide each year. It is "a crushing economic burden on malaria-endemic countries" and impedes economic growth.

Once contracted, malaria is treatable. "A drug called chloroquine is a useful preventive but many strains of the malaria parasite in Haiti have developed resistance to it." Artemisinin-combination medicines "are safe and exhibit potent, rapid antimalarial activity", but resistance to these drugs is also rising. It is clear "that in the absence of a vaccine", "elimination of the mosquitoes that spread the disease is the key to preventing epidemics."

"Unfortunately, flawed public policy limits the available options."

Humans, armed with the weapon of DDT, are capable of destroying the deadly mosquito population; however, "on the basis of data on toxicity to fish and migrating birds" the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) banned "virtually all uses of the pesticide DDT" in 1972. Subsequently, DDT was banned for "agricultural use worldwide under the 2001 Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants, which stigmatized the chemical and effectively constituted a prohibition."

"Although DDT is a (modestly) toxic substance, there is a vast difference between applying large amounts of it in the environment -- as farmers did before it was banned -- and using it carefully and sparingly to fight mosquitoes and other disease-carrying insects."

DDT is an effective pesticide because it is long lasting, and it works by poisoning and repelling mosquitoes. Treatment of mosquito breeding grounds prevents malaria transmission by reducing the insect population. Spraying DDT in homes and on door frames repels adult mosquitoes and prevents malaria transmission within the home. Because of its dual effectiveness, it is logical to assume that DDT will help prevent malaria even if mosquitoes develop resistance to it…a resistance that is yet to manifest.

"Since the banning of DDT, insect-borne diseases such as malaria and dengue have been on the rise. In fact, the huge toll of diseases spread by mosquitoes caused some public health officials to rethink DDT's use…In 2006, after some 50 million preventable deaths, the U.N.'s World Health Organization reversed course and endorsed the use of DDT to kill and repel malaria-causing mosquitoes."

"Poor tropical countries like Haiti where malaria is endemic desperately need cheap, effective control of mosquitoes. Instead of continuing the politically correct stigmatization of DDT, United Nations agencies and NGOs such as the Red Cross should be rushing supplies of it to Haiti."

Henry I. Miller, a physician and molecular biologist, is a fellow at Stanford University's Hoover Institution. He was an official at the NIH and FDA.

Read more: http://www.miamiherald.com/2010/05/03/v-fullstory/1610610/ddt-can-stymie-malaria-carrying.html#ixzz0mvfg9aS4


Miller, Henry I. "DDT can stymie malaria-carrying mosquitoes in Haiti." Miami Herald. 3 May 2010.


  1. To use DDT is to trade one kind of epidemic for another. I know an entire family afflicted with cancer, and very fast, aggressive cancer at that, behind the fathers use of DDT as a landscaper in the 1950s. Malaria needs to be eradicated but Malaria, once contracted is treatable. Cancer, less so.

  2. I'm not too fond of this idea. witchiebunny has said it better than I would. We will defeat malaria by other means.