"We now have it within our power to eradicate from the face of the earth that age-old scourge of mankind: malaria." The year was 1958. President Eisenhower announced his war on the devastating disease in his State of the Union speech. Malaria was a hot topic. Two-fifths of the world's population were at risk of contracting malaria, 200 million suffered malarial infections, and 2,000,000 to 2,500,000 died from infection each year. Ten years earlier, in 1948, chemist Paul Hermann Müller was given the Nobel Prize for his intensive research of a chemical called dichloro-diphenyl-trichloroethane, or DDT. The chemical provided Eisenhower with a toxic contact poison capable of killing the female Anopheles mosquito—the sole transporter of malaria. The World Health Organization plus sixty other governments joined President Eisenhower’s insecticide blitz campaign to obliterate the very existance of malaria by 1968.
How is it possible, then, that 50 years later, over one million African children die from malaria every year?
"As a result of the Campaign, malaria was eradicated by 1967 from all developed countries where the disease was endemic and large areas of tropical Asia and Latin America were freed from the risk of infection. The Malaria Eradication Campaign was only launched in three countries of tropical Africa since it was not considered feasible in the others. Despite these achievements, improvements in the malaria situation could not be maintained indefinitely by time-limited, highly prescriptive and centralized programmes." 
In 1972 ,William Ruckelshaus (administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency [EPA]) banned the use of DDT. However, only two years earlier he made the following statement to the U.S. Court of Appeals, "DDT has an amazing an exemplary record of safe use, does not cause a toxic response in man or other animals, and is not harmful. Carcinogenic claims regarding DDT are unproven speculation."  Furthermore, during the DDT hearings, the EPA hearing examiner, Judge Edmund Sweeney stated that "DDT is not a carcinogenic hazard to man... DDT is not a mutagenic or teratogenic hazard to man... The use of DDT under the regulations involved here do not have a deleterious effect on freshwater fish, estuarine organisms, wild birds or other wildlife." 
What is the truth about DDT? Is it as bad as they say? Does DDT truly cause cancer, mental retardation, birth defects? Does it threaten the environment, the bald eagle, thin the egg shells of wild birds, and indiscriminately kill helpful insects? Does DDT breed super mosquitos and super parasites impervious to our most powerful insecticides? And, ultimately, do these negative consequences outweigh saving the lives of over one million African infants and children?
Entire websites are dedicated to the pros and cons of DDT. Both sides are very convincing. They back up arguments with substantial and impressive studies. Unfortunately, hours of research has led me to no definite conclusion. If we eradicated malaria from most of the developed world, why can’t we rid Africa of the epidemic? I can’t point my finger at any one cause: the decision to ban DDT, the greed of pharmaceutical companies, the corruption of African governments, the misappropriation of donated monies, the lack of ability to successfully distribute mosquito nets and anti-malarials, or an unspoken and perhaps unrealized general opinion that Africa really doesn’t matter—or worse, that natural selection should take their lives.
Perhaps the greatest irony of this tragedy is that we have the cure. The deadliest strain of parasite, P. falciparum, is spread person-to-person by infected female Anopheles mosquitos. This insect was virtually erradicated in the United States by DDT and anti-malarials during the late 1950s and 1960s. Although DDT is the most affordable solution (which is especially appealing to poorer nations like Africa), strict environmental regulations and questionable longterm effects makes what was once a “quick-fix” for the U.S. in the late 1960s, a next-to-impossible scenario for the 350–500 million cases of malaria that occur worldwide.
In September 2006, The Washington Post published an article announcing WHO’s reversal of the 30-year-old policy to ban DDT in malaria-ravaged countries. According to Arata Kochi, the director of WHO’s malaria department, "WHO will use every possible and safe method to control malaria." Therefore, the organization plans to spray pesticide once- to twice-a-year on the inside walls of mud and thatched huts. Each application’s estimated cost is $5. Kochi continued, “I am here today to ask you, please help save African babies as you are helping to save the environment. African babies do not have a powerful movement . . . to champion their well-being.” WHO hopes DDTs impact will repeat the success of a 2000 study in Zambia where incidences of malaria lowered 35% in sprayed neighborhoods. Their decision that the benefits of the carcinogenic DDT outweigh the physical and environmental risks is a controversial one.
When discussing the epidemic with an average, Caucasian-American, God-fearing co-worker, I was surprised to hear her wonder aloud if these children should die. Believe it or not, there is strong argument for population control. In the 1960s, WHO even discussed malaria as important to the overpopulation problem. According to www.junkscience.com, a site dedicated to debunking false scientific allegations:
Population control advocates blamed DDT for increasing third world population. In the 1960s, World Health Organization authorities believed there was no alternative to the overpopulation problem but to assure than up to 40 percent of the children in poor nations would die of malaria. As an official of the Agency for International Development stated, "Rather dead than alive and riotously reproducing." 
My conversation with my co-worker branched into the Malthusian catastrophe, who to let live and who to let die, and finally, “what’s the point of saving African children if they will most likely later die of AIDS?” Whether or not you believe in population control, how is it ethical for us to save ourselves and not the people of Africa? Malaria was a deadly reality of our past. Did we second guess our decision to save ourselves? Why do we deserve to outwit “natural selection” and not do the same for those in Africa? How is it ethical to save our own children at the expense of the environment and then allow “natural selection” and “population control” to destroy the lives of over a million African children?
I have struggled with this blog because I couldn’t find any answers. My limited human brain is incapable of solving this huge, overwhelming problem. I have arrived at one decision, though. I believe it is a sacred human right to survive. God help us if we decide the earth is too populated and which of our populations deserve to die.
1. Bull World Health Organ,1998;76(1):11-6.
2. Barrons, 10 November 1975.
3. Sweeney, EM. 1972. EPA Hearing Examiner's recommendations and findings concerning DDT hearings, April 25, 1972 (40 CFR 164.32, 113 pages). Summarized in Barrons (May 1, 1972) and Oregonian (April 26, 1972).
4. Desowitz, RS. 1992. Malaria Capers, W.W. Norton & Company.