Human Rights Day (December 10) focuses on a myriad of “rights” that activists and commissions declare are “fundamental.” Some certainly are, while others are questionable, at best. This year, news stories will likely dwell on secret CIA jails that supposedly violate the rights of terrorists intent on maiming and murdering adults and children.
Conspicuously absent will be accounts of what growing numbers of people view as intolerable human rights violations that affect billions of innocent people every year.
Back in the 1940s, 50s and 60s, the United States and Europe used DDT and other insecticides to protect soldiers, war and concentration camp survivors, and entire nations from the ravages of typhus, malaria and yellow fever. If they hadn’t, millions would have died.
Instead, these killer diseases were completely eradicated from the US, Europe, Canada and Australia. However, two billion people – a third of humanity – are still at risk of getting malaria in Africa, Asia and Latin America. Half a billion actually get it every year, leaving them unable to work or care for their families for weeks or months on end. More than a million die, and tens of thousands are left permanently brain-damaged. Half are children.
Incredibly, the annual death toll from malaria is over 10,000 times greater that the U.S. toll from the West Nile virus that so terrifies American mothers.
Different species of mosquitoes carry constantly mutating malaria parasites under widely varying conditions in tropical to temperate regions. But it’s still a preventable and treatable disease.
We have the knowledge and weapons to save lives through humanitarian and environmentally sound anti-malaria programs. Unfortunately, we have lacked the moral clarity and political willpower to do so. Certain environmental groups, governments and even healthcare agencies support bed nets and various other interventions that do help in controlling malaria. But many of them viscerally oppose the most effective weaponry in our arsenal: insecticides, especially DDT.
Just spraying tiny amounts of DDT on the inside walls of houses once or twice a year keeps 90 percent of mosquitoes from even entering, reduces malaria rates by 75 percent or more, and enables doctors to provide the very best medicines to people who still get malaria. South Africa used this approach to slash malaria rates by 96% in three years. That’s why we hold that access to life-saving insecticides is a fundamental human right.
Today, though, people in wealthy, malaria-free countries fear insecticides more than this horrific disease. They conjure up specters of speculative risks from DDT, but downplay the misery and death that the insecticide would prevent. They threaten aid cutoffs and agricultural export bans against any malaria-endemic country that even suggests it might use DDT.
These actions – by Greenpeace, the Pesticide Action Network, Physicians for Social Responsibility, World Health Organization, U.S. Agency for International Development, World Bank and European Union – are major human rights violations. The stony silence of Amnesty International, the United Nations and similar organizations raises disturbing questions about their fitness to judge anyone’s alleged human rights violations, or their failure to meet ethical or “corporate social responsibility” standards.
Fortunately, the tide is turning.
The Hedge Funds vs. Malaria Business Leadership Conference this week at Atlanta’s Emory University brought together distinguished business, academic, medical, sports and political leaders to outline new strategies for reducing malaria. Speakers discussed programs, technologies and private initiatives that could bring health, hope and prosperity to nations that malaria has kept mired in poverty and misery.
Nearly every speaker has endorsed the Kill Malarial Mosquitoes NOW! Declaration. It demands that US, EU and UN policies permit, encourage and support the use of DDT, other insecticides and modern drugs. Otherwise millions will continue to die needlessly.
The Declaration promotes insecticide use in addition to – but never instead of – all the other weapons we use to combat this serial killer. It presents in detail the reasons why DDT, other insecticides and new combination drug therapies are vital to controlling malaria.
The KMMN campaign has already gained the support of Nobel Peace Laureates Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Dr. Norman Borlaug, Greenpeace co-founder Dr. Patrick Moore, Congress of Racial Equality national chairman Roy Innis, and hundreds of clergy, physicians, infectious disease experts, political leaders and human rights advocates from all over the world. (See www.FightingMalaria.org to read and endorse the declaration.) It’s already helped persuade Congress to enact legislation directing the USAID to revamp its policies – and the agency is responding, albeit slowly.
However, all this marks only the beginning.
Winning the war against trillions of malarial mosquitoes will require every bit of the innovative can-do spirit that stopped cholera and polio – the kind that could one day put malaria on the ash heap of history. It will require eliminating the obstacles and restrictions erected by radical activists and bureaucrats, whose devotion to environmental purity is often stronger than their devotion to human health and life.
Like Martin Luther King, we have a dream. Of a day when parents and children can live without fear of being struck down by malaria. Of a day when grandparents can talk of a time, long ago, when there was a disease called malaria.
Many of us have witnessed that change right here in the United States. There is no reason it can’t happen in Africa, Asia and Latin America.
It will require a willingness to accept the reality of the huge task before us, and take whatever steps are necessary to stop malaria’s global reign of terror. But it can be done.
And there is no better time to begin than now, on international Human Rights Day.
Niger Innis is national spokesman for the Congress of Racial Equality. Paul Driessen is CORE’s senior policy advisor and author of Eco-Imperialism: Green power ∙ Black death (www.Eco-Imperialism.com)
Copyright 2005: Paul Driessen and Niger Innis