Sunday, June 08, 2008

The best defense

In sports and in warfare, one can expect to win if they have a superior first strike advantage. The same thing can be said for public health! The best defense against killer diseases is to eliminate them at the source. The United States did that in the fifties with DDT. Then one of our own dear liberal souls saw what she saw as a threat to eagles and other birds of prey. And so, worldwide disdain for a Nobel Prize winning discovery began!

Last year, I seem to remember reading about the debunking of the environmentalists' arguments for banning DDT - the most effective insecticide ever developed. Especially against mosquitoes. Now the NY Times has an article lauding the efforts of diverse groups heroically raising money for nets to ward off the mosquitoes that the environmentalists saved from oblivion. The nets contain insecticide, but mostly they just keep the little beasts away from sleeping children.

Two children a minute, on the average are dying from malaria and related diseases, and we want to send $10 nets to save them. How much DDT will $10 buy? I would venture to say that would be enough to eradicate the mosquitoes in a small village with hundreds of children! Even an environmentalist group with a personal stake in Africa - The African American Environmentalist Association - demands the use of DDT to save the population of Africa from extinction! They have a web page dedicated to this. There they give lip service to the woman who lead the fight against DDT in the sixties, but they insist that the poison is safe around children when used properly.

I am a conservative, but I believe in responsible management of resources. Buy nets, but don't forget the bug spray!


Ed Darrell said...

It costs about $12 to treat a hut with DDT. DDT lasts six months.

A bednet lasts five years, for $10.

You seem to recall an article "debunking" Rachel Carson, but no such article done with any scientific accuracy exists. Since 1962 there have been more than 1,000 serious scientific studies done on the issues she wrote about in Silent Spring. Not one of the studies disputes any of her claims.

1,000 supporting studies is pretty powerful in suggesting she was right.

To treat malaria we need better health care to cure people with the disease (and prevent more infections); we need education to show people how to drain mosquito breeding places near their homes; and we need some way to protect people from being bitten in the early and late evening hours when anopheles mosquitoes are active. DDT can help with the last item, but it's a deadly poison that disrupts natural cycles and contributes to increases in mosquito populations in the next generation.

We cannot use poison to improve health care delivery in Africa. We cannot use poison to create new pharmaceuticals to treat malaria. Poison won't drain the potholes and rain gutters.

Get the facts. DDT is no panacea.

Come see at Millard Fillmore's Bathtub, if you want more information.

Henry Martin said...

Thank you, Ed, for the information. I stand corrected. The net indeed is cheaper. But it doesn't change the need for both.

I agree that to remove the threat by draining standing water is the best solution. But we need to kill the mosquitoes that are NOW bothering the people as well.

Thanks again for visiting my blog. I went over to your site, but I need to go now. I bookmarked it, though. Have a good day.

Anonymous said...

As Ed points out, you've got the facts wrong on DDT. And you're opening analogy--that superior first strike capability necessarily translates into victory--makes little sense either. Just look at the current quagmire in Iraq and the previous one in Vietnam. And the corrected analogy holds for DDT too: time and time again we've seen DDT or paris green or some other insecticide initially do a great job of controlling malaria, only to see that advantage slip away as mosquitoes evolve resistance and governments divest from control efforts prematurely, thinking that in winning the opening battle they've won the war.

Henry Martin said...

Ordinarily, I would not respond to an Anonymous blogger. However, since I have not been blogging regularly, the stimulus is good for my brain!

I admitted my ignorance as to the price, and I admit other things help, what else do you want! :-(

Actually, you should check out the AAEA that I mentioned. They seem convinced that DDT is the best thing out there for stopping the mosquitoes.

On your points - We did not use "first strike" on Viet Nam. And we would have won if the politicians had not been running the war. We did use first strike - but not without plenty of warning - against Saddam Hussein and it most certainly worked. What we have there now is a combination of foreign instigators among religious factions - terrorists - fighting over THERE instead of over here!

But this was not supposed to be a blog on war. Your point on the limited success of DDT is well made. And you mention the very reasons for this, though mosquitoes probably do not "evolve" resistance (that is for another blog). Like any other pest, some are stronger than others and ALL of them must be eradicated in any assault. Governments, in seeking to "save money" (or sometimes STEAL money), do not complete the job.

That being admitted, DDT is STILL not proven ineffective. If anything is BETTER, then it should be used. The lives of millions are at stake.