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Affluent Nations Must Help Africa Quell Malaria Epidemic and Boost Crops

George McGovern and Rudy Boschwitz
Press and Dakotan 3.09.2003

WASHINGTON: AIDS, Liberia, widespread famine and now President Bush's historic visit are re-focusing the Free World's attention on Africa.

Africa's political challenges are a daunting maze, and while our money can reduce the suffering of AIDS, there is as yet no cure. So what can the First World realistically do now to help this desperate and troubled continent? The most effective approach may well be to attack an African public health problem that has lingered below the radar screen of America's public attention -the unprecedented malaria epidemic.

Malaria kills 10 times as many people per day than SARS has killed in total. Malaria is even more prevalent and debilitating in Africa than AIDS. Sadly, most of the million annual malaria deaths in Africa -perhaps as many as 90%- are of children under the age of 5, a tragic statistic. The ravages of malaria also make at least a hundred million -probably far more- Africans into help-less dependents. The disease is chronic, with frequent relapses.

It is not a benign disease. The suffering associated with malaria is intense and terrible. Economically, the cost of malaria in deaths and debilitation stifles progress and growth in many African regions.

If we give Africans back DDT, we could halt this terrible epidemic. The latest U.S. research -a major federal study on New York's Long Island -confirms for at least the 10th time that DDT represents no threat to human health. Small amounts of DDT, sprayed on the inside walls of African homes, are by far the cheapest, longest lasting, most effective mosquito killer and repellent. Used indoors, it cannot threaten the environment -surely a relief to those who harbor this concern.

We used DDT to eradicate malaria in America after World War II. Then activists claimed that DDT was a carcinogen that destroyed the eggs of raptor birds such as the bald eagle. Neither claim has been backed by good science, but we launched a successful global campaign to eliminate DDT, even in areas where malaria was pervasive or an enormous threat.

Malaria quickly staged a winning comeback. Consider that in 1945, nearly a million Indians died of malaria. By 1960, DDT had reduced the toll to a few thousand. Today with sharply curtailed usage of DDT due to environmental concerns, India again has millions of cases of malaria.

Today, recognizing all the tradeoffs and the ghastly suffering endured by each of malaria's victims, at the very least we should allow indoor use of DDT in Africa. It would reduce the awful human and economic costs of malaria with no possible threat to wildlife.

It is Africa's turn for a Green Revolution like the one that already has given India abundant grain harvests for some three decades and helped make it a major economic player of the global stage.

America and the Free World should financially act to make the Green Revolution possible for Africa's malnourished and often starving peoples. No civilized society, no free and prosperous society has ever developed over a broad area without secure food abundance.

America for two centuries has led the world in agricultural research. After the first Green Revolution occurred here our high-yield seeds and farming systems literally saved billions of people from starvation as they spread to other parts of the world. Additionally, higher yields per acre have saved millions of square miles of forests from plow-down for food production. The stunning toll on the world's wildlife had such plow-down occurred is inestimable.

Supporting the modernization of African agriculture, underwriting the use of modern chemicals, pesticides and herbicides, and, yes, making possible the use of genetically modified seeds that better resist drought, diseases and voracious tropical insects that attack African crops, would give Africa a chance to rise out of the grip of persistent and pervasive poverty.

Some maintain that more food means "overpopulation." But we have learned that food security leads to urbanization, affluence and better education. All three bring down birth rates. Births per woman in Asia and Latin America, since their Green Revolutions, have dropped from 6 to 2.7 -with stability at 2.1. In Africa the number remains 5.6.

Efforts to relieve AIDS sufferers and bring political calm certainly must continue. However, there is as yet no cure for AIDS and political stability has been a most elusive goal. But suppressing the terrible and more pervasive malaria epidemic and supporting increased food production through all modern means are achievable goals.

Taking these steps now would vastly improve the lives of hundreds of millions of our world's poorest citizens. And it would be a noble thing to do.

George McGovern was a U.S. senator from 1962 to 1980 and was the Democratic presidential candidate in 1972. He served as U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Food & Agriculture Organization from 1997 to 2001. Rudy Boschwitz, R-Minn., served in the U.S. Senate and on the Senate Agriculture Committee from 1978 to 1991 and is chairman of The Hudson Institute's Center for Global Food Issues. Both serve on the board of Friends of the World Food Program. Readers may write to them at Hudson/DC, 1015 18th Street NW, Suite 300, Washington, D.C. 20036.

Source: http://www.yankton.net/stories/090303/opE_20030903035.shtml