By Steven Lyazi
After being infected again with malaria last July, I spent almost a month in a Kampala hospital. Paying for my treatment was extremely difficult, as it is for most Ugandan and African families. I was lucky I could scrape the money together. Many families cannot afford proper treatment.
Where and how can they get the money to go back to the hospital again and again, every time a family member gets malaria, when they also need food, clothes, and so many other things – or malaria makes them so sick that they can’t work for weeks or even months? Many parents can do nothing except watch their loved ones die in agony, and then give them a simple burial.
Far too many people still die from malaria every year in Africa, the vast majority of them women and children. Too many more die from lung and intestinal diseases, because we don’t have electricity, natural gas, clean water, or decent modern homes, clinics and hospitals.
Malaria also makes many people so weak that they die from other diseases that people in Europe and the United States rarely even hear about, like chronic dysentery. It saps people’s strength for years and leaves them with severe liver and kidney damage. Cerebral malaria causes lifelong learning and memory problems.
All these diseases create enormous barriers to Africa’s economic growth. They drain our national healthcare budgets and deepen our poverty. Malaria control and treatment alone cost Africa over $12 billion annually. Uganda alone spends $11 million a year fighting it. The disease drains an estimated $100 billion every year from the African economy.
Malaria also hits India and other countries really hard. The World Health Organization (WHO) says it drains India’s economy of as much as $2 billion every year. Billions in wages are lost, because people die or are absent from work, have low productivity due to fatigue, and have to spend so much on bed nets, insecticides, bug repellants, medicines, treatments, and hospital care.
Terrible roads mean that, even when AIDS and other drugs are shipped to African countries, few people receive them. Many sit in warehouses until their expiration date passes, and then those expired drugs get sold on the black market. People buy them, and die. Other times, they take drugs until they feel better, and then sell the rest of the prescription. Then a more deadly, resistant malaria comes back and makes them even worse.
And yet global green campaigners endlessly spend money trying to prevent Africans from using fossil fuels, promoting renewable energy and trying to sell us little solar ovens. But this great generosity does nothing to address the horrible realities of people dying now – day after day, year after year. Greens worry constantly about Africans being exposed to insecticides. We worry about dying from malaria.
We don’t need enemies of humanity. What we need is financial and political support to conquer malaria, lung diseases, and intestinal parasites. We need clean water and affordable, reliable electricity in our villages and cities. We need modern hospitals.
We need environmental activists to realize how important fossil fuels and hydroelectric plants are to having decent, healthy living standards, lights, computers, the internet, clean hospitals, clean water, and everything else modern countries have.
We need them to support us Africans in preventing malaria in the first place – which means we need more than bed nets. We need campaigners to recognize that we have the same rights as people in modern, rich, industrialized countries to decent living standards and modern technology.
Malaria viruses are constantly mutating, making available treatments less effective. Many families cannot afford the drugs, and many of the drugs are fake, just packaged to look like the real thing. People spend money on them, they don’t help at all, and people die.
The WHO says over 3 billion people around the world are still at risk of getting malaria. In 2015, there were 212 million cases of malaria and 438,000 people died, the vast majority of them in Africa.
Many of these illnesses and deaths could be prevented if just a few simple steps were taken right now, especially by allowing and encouraging countries to use preventive measures that work, like DDT.
So many people have access to medical care only on an irregular basis. Others have never learned how to take proper care of themselves or their children. But the most fundamental problem is malaria-carrying mosquitoes that are the source of our biggest scourge. And there is a readily available life-saving solution – DDT and other pesticides to kill mosquitoes and keep them out of our homes.
To me, there is simply no substitute for DDT. It is the most affordable, longest lasting, most effective mosquito repellant in existence. Sprayed in tiny amounts on the walls of traditional homes, just once or twice a year, DDT repels mosquitoes from the entire house, kills any that land on walls, and perplexes or irritates any that are not killed or repelled, so their urge to bite is gone.
Other pesticides that some activists say we can use are not as appropriate, or they are up to six times more expensive than DDT, or they have to be sprayed much more often. Every dollar spent this way is a dollar that’s unavailable for safe drinking water, electricity and other critical needs.
DDT for indoor residual spraying programs is rejected because it is supposedly dangerous to the environment and might be detected in our blood or on agricultural products. We use it carefully, it is less dangerous than other pesticides, and being able to detect it does not mean it is a risk to anyone. No one has ever died from it, and it can help prevent malaria and other diseases that ruin our lives and kill us.
Where DDT is used in the developing world, malaria cases and deaths often drop by 80% or more. Where it is not used, people die. If we can prevent malaria and other insect-carried diseases in the first place, we won’t have so many people sick and out of work. Families won’t have to spend their savings on treatment. Doctors and nurses won’t be overwhelmed, and will have the time and resources to address other health problems. It’s that simple.
But too many politicians and activists have made it impossible to prevent the disease by killing and repelling mosquitoes. They constantly oppose DDT use and insist that developing countries rely on insecticide-treated bed nets, larvae-eating fish, and other strategies that are simply inadequate.
Malaria is no longer a killer in western countries – because they used DDT to help eradicate the disease decades ago. That may be a key reason as why many well-off westerners talk about environmental considerations being supreme, and tell Africans and other third world countries not to use pesticides because of supposed health risks and environmental damage.
Malaria also has nothing to do with global warming. It existed for centuries in northern Europe and even in Siberia. The same mosquito species still live there. They just don’t carry malaria anymore, and so cannot transmit it to people. That’s what we want to do in Africa.
Americans would never tolerate being told they could not protect their children – or that they should rely on bed nets or wait more long years for new drug treatments or magic mosquitoes that cannot carry malaria. But Africans are repeatedly told we have to be content with exactly these limited safeguards, while parents and children get sick and die. That is inhumane and imperialistic.
If wealthy nations and NGOs really want to help developing nations, they should support fossil fuel power plants for reliable, affordable electricity. They should support DDT as an important part of the solution to eradicate this serial killer, so that Africans can work, spend less on malaria, have more money for other healthcare and family needs, and develop as much as rich nations have.
Steven Lyazi is a student and worker in Kampala, Uganda. He served as special assistant to Congress of Racial Equality-Uganda director Cyril Boynes, until Mr. Boynes’ death in January 2015. He plans to attend college and help his country and Africa get the energy and other modern technologies they need.