Scientists Confront DDT-Promoters

In a recent letter in Environmental Health Perspectives (EHP), Drs. Hans Herren and Charles Mbogo — both with extensive malaria control experience and expertise in Africa — responded to ongoing propaganda from front groups like Africa Fighting Malaria (AFM) that promote DDT as the only effective tool for malaria control. Drs. Herren and Mbogo point out that in a flood of opinion pieces, letters and articles, the ideologues associated with AFM "reduce the complex issue of malaria control to a single, dichotomous choice between DDT and malaria. Framing the issue in this manner is a dangerous oversimplification and an distraction from the critical dialog on how to effectively combat malaria around the world — particularly in African communities." The questions that need to be pursued, according to Herren and Mbogo, are not “Which is worse, malaria or DDT?” but rather, more complex and practical: “What are the best tools to deploy for malaria control in a given situation, taking into account the on-the-ground challenges and needs, efficacy, cost, and collateral effects — both positive and negative — to human health and the environment, as well as the uncertainties associated with all these considerations?”

AFM has repeatedly denied the human health dangers of DDT, despite well documented findings to the contrary. Evidence and concern around DDT’s adverse human health impacts led the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants to mandate a global phaseout of DDT by 2020. AFM has, for many years, churned out publications like their recent vanity-press book and op-eds in conservative media venues, asserting that DDT is the most effective solution for malaria control despite a dearth of on-the-ground evidence to substantiate their claims. Underlying the group’s cynical pro-DDT campaign is a culture war strategy that attempts to drive DDT as a wedge issue with the ultimate aim of discrediting the environmental movement. Staffed and backed by right-wing groups and climate change deniers, AFM attacks both the work of scientists who document the links between DDT and a host of serious reproductive health impacts, and the motives of advocacy groups who work to advance knowledge of and funding for non-DDT malaria control regimens. Many such community-based systems of health and vector control ("myriad micro-solutions") are working effectively to reduce malaria incidences and deaths. Herren and Mbogo note in closing that AFM’s work does “more to fuel … ‘interminable debates’ than to meaningfully inform decisions that will save people’s lives.”

 

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