Africa Malaria Day - action or bombast?

Parents and children will continue dying from malaria, until Europe rejects its colonialist past

by Roy Innis

Every year, 400 million African parents and children are stricken by malaria. Many are unable to work, cultivate fields, attend school or care for their families, for weeks on end. Others are permanently brain damaged. Nearly 1 million die.

Every year, Africa Malaria Day (April 25) brings promises to control the disease. But the calls for action have been mere bombast, as healthcare agencies emphasized “capacity building,” the European Union and radical greens continue to obstruct proven strategies, and disease and death rates climb.

This year, though, things may be different.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Greenpeace co-founder Patrick Moore, and hundreds of physicians, clergy and human rights advocates have joined me in demanding that DDT be put back into the malaria control arsenal. They’ve all signed the Kill Malarial Mosquitoes NOW declaration, which demands that substantial funds be spent on DDT, Artemisia-based combination therapies (ACT drugs) and other commodities – instead of on conferences, reports and “capacity building.” (You can find the declaration on the Africa Fighting Malaria and Eco-imperialism websites: and

The United States Congress now supports indoor DDT spraying as a vital component of any successful malaria control program and has told US taxpayer-funded agencies to begin spending money on cost-effective insecticides, drugs and other commodities. The U.S. Agency for International Development has initiated DDT and other insecticide spraying programs in several countries.

The World Health Organization likewise supports indoor spraying with DDT; the new head of WHO’s global malaria program, Dr. Arata Kochi, says DDT will now be an integral component of new strategies that emphasize effectiveness and accountability. The World Bank still refuses to modify its failed programs, but I am hopeful that Bank president Paul Wolfowitz will soon do the right thing, and join this growing international effort to reduce disease and save lives.

Sprayed in small quantities, just twice a year, on the walls and eaves of mud-and-thatch or cinder-block homes, DDT keeps 90% of mosquitoes from entering and irritates any that do come in, so they rarely bite. No other insecticide – at any price – does that. Of course, it also kills those that land on walls.

Used this way, virtually no DDT even reaches the environment. But the results are astounding.

Within two years of starting DDT programs, South Africa, Mozambique, Zambia and Swaziland slashed their malaria rates by 75% or more. With fewer people getting sick, they could get scarce ACT drugs to nearly all victims, cutting rates even further.

Other countries want to launch similar programs. However, the EU is again warning of possible agricultural export sanctions against Uganda, Kenya and other countries that use DDT to save lives. Previous threats were pointed and direct; the latest are more oblique.

“Nothing will happen, at least on the official side, if they decide to use DDT in strict compliance with the Stockholm Convention” on chemicals, the EU’s trade representative to Uganda said recently. But the EU has “no control” over environmental and consumer organizations that might pressure supermarkets to stop selling agricultural products from those nations, he claimed.

So if callous activists emphasize overblown risks from trace amounts of insecticides – and ignore the very real, life-or-death risks that insecticides could prevent – the EU’s hands are tied. It can’t even issue an official statement, attesting that DDT is safe and represents no threat to EU consumers.

This is absurd and unacceptable. The struggle for human rights – for the fundamental right to life itself – is obviously not over.

Malaria once killed thousands of Americans annually, from New York to California, from Florida and Louisiana to Michigan and Alaska. Even in the 1930s, it reduced the industrial output of our southern states by a third.

In Europe, Cromwell died from malaria, Charles II and Louis XIV nearly perished, and Rome was saved several times from Germanic armies whose ranks were decimated by the deadly fever. From Italy and Romania to Poland and the English Channel, malarial mosquitoes ruled over Europe for centuries. H omegrown malaria was not eradicated in Europe until 1959.

Aggressive interventions, including widespread use of DDT, finally ended its deadly grip. Once the United States and Europe became malaria-free, however, they began to impose restrictions that have perpetuated malaria elsewhere, especially in Africa.

They banned DDT, while grudgingly leaving a rarely honored exception in the Stockholm Convention. With few exceptions, aid agencies refused to supply or support the use of insecticides, especially DDT. They still promote bed nets and education – while awaiting a vaccine that’s still a decade away, and mud-and-thatch huts miraculously becoming modern homes with doors and window screens.

Not surprisingly, there has been another Holocaust of Africans every few years, and malaria deaths since the 1972 DDT ban may exceed the entire World War II death toll. It is a travesty worse than colonialism ever was, a human rights violation of monstrous proportions.

I have seen this devastation with my own eyes. Malaria destroyed the lives of my wife’s African friends and family members. Last Christmas, my nephew returned to a Ugandan school that he sponsors, to find that 50 of its 500 young students had died from malaria in just 12 months. My daughter-in-law lost two sisters, three nephews and her little son.

It’s time for Europe to end its deadly policies. Individual countries and the EU Parliament must issue an unequivocal declaration, supporting DDT as a vital component of any malaria control program. Affirming the right of every country’s health minister to decide which weapons to use in combating disease. Agreeing to support insecticide spraying programs. Saying trade bans and lethal supermarket campaigns will not be tolerated. And pledging to penalize any country or organization that tries to block life-saving insecticide programs.

For too long, the European Union, environmental groups and healthcare agencies let horribly misguided policies perpetuate malaria’s global reign of terror. They have it within their power to save millions of lives, and improve health and economic conditions for billions.

If they can find the necessary moral clarity and political willpower, countless mothers and daughters, fathers and sons will be spared the ravages of this killer disease. Only then will we have truly comprehensive malaria control programs – that include DDT and other insecticides (for indoor and outdoor spraying), larvacides (to eliminate mosquitoes before they fly off to infect more victims), long-lasting insecticide-treated bed nets, better education and sanitation programs, ample supplies of modern Artemisia-based drugs, and better medical analysis and care capabilities.

In short, we need every single malaria control weapon, working in tandem like a well-trained army, to stop this disease and keep it from coming back. Then, and only then, will we be able to celebrate, rather than merely commemorate, the next Africa Malaria Day.


Roy Innis is national chairman of the Congress of Racial Equality, one of the USA’s oldest and most respected civil rights organizations.

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