There is a plague terrorizing Africa. It is incurable, inexorable and seemingly unstoppable. It produces new victims every day, indiscriminate of class or profession. Yet the media is mostly silent.

This plague isn’t Ebola; it is malaria. Since its first discovery Ebola has killed 3000 people. Forty years and 3000 deaths. Ebola is a piker. Malaria kills that many people every three days. Three days – 3000 dead from malaria.

Malaria isn’t exciting; it is not threat to America or Europe. It doesn’t cause you to bleed out. Doctors don’t have to wear hazmat suits because you can’t catch it from another human. Malaria doesn’t make interesting pictures; Malaria just kills people. Those it doesn’t kill it makes permanently ill. You may have good days but then it hits and knocks you on your ass for a month. I have several friends who have malaria caught while living in South Africa.

There are pills you can take to reduce the risk but in some people they cause psychotic episodes. Not something you want to risk so visitors lather on mosquito repellant and sleep under DDT infused nets. Locals do so too if they can afford it. Many can’t.

Ah, DDT. It was the great hope of the tropics. It was driving back the mosquito hordes that carry the parasite. But then along came Rachel Carson and Silent Spring. Her argument led to a world-wide ban in the use of DDT. Never mind that we later found some of her evidence was fabricated.

But that’s how it is. The beacons of truth that burn in the minds of true believers are always more important than the lives of children. All fundamentalists – religious political or otherwise – are like that.

The Canadian government has given $1.4 M to contain Ebola. It’s a nice political cause. People are afraid of Ebola so there are votes to be gained. Meanwhile they ignore climate change and the mosquitos that carry malaria move farther north every year. Malaria doesn’t exist in Canada now but it did once – when they were building the Rideau Canal, workers were brought in from other more southern projects and they may have infected the local mosquitoes (though some studies suggest the disease was already present). The disease died off over the winter months but as the climate changes that might not happen the next time. I wonder if, when we see our own children dying, DDT will make a comeback.

And that’s ten minutes.



2 thoughts on “Plagues

  1. Jean-Louis Trudel

    While DDT is an interesting case study for all sorts of reasons, it’s a complicated one. The ban was not worldwide, but had worldwide implications because of Western donors financing the use of insecticides in developing countries. Its effectiveness also varies depending on mosquito species and whether or not DDT has been used agriculturally on a large-scale (thus breeding DDT resistance in associated insect populations). Finally, malaria should not be presented as a static scourge. Without even bringing DDT into it, the world has been able to reduce the impact of malaria:

    “great progress has been made in the past decade. Malaria mortality rates, which take into account population growth, are estimated to have decreased by 45 per cent globally across all age groups between 2000 and 2012, and by 51 per cent in children under 5 years of age. In the African Region, malaria death rates decreased by 49% across all age groups and by 54% in children under 5 years of age (25%). ”



  2. Thanks — I know that progress has been made with malaria, including using genetically modified sterile males to bring about population crashes — another tactic that has generated some opposition.


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