What is the most ethical way to fight malaria?

Our ethical columnist on DDT, bed nets and GM mosquitoes.

Ethan Greenhart

Topics Politics

Dear Ethan,

I have been reading a lot about the problem of malaria lately and I was wondering if perhaps it is time we reconsidered our attitude to DDT. A lot of people seem to die in Africa. Would it be ethical to consider using just a little alongside bed nets and such like to stop this?

Charles Marsh-Feaver

Dear Charles,

Please step back and take time to consider the content of your statement. What you are suggesting is that it might be ethical carefully to select which form of insecticide (a term which should be uttered in the same breath as ‘genocide’) is most appropriate for Africa.

Banning DDT was one of the few decent, planet-sensitive things that human beings have managed in the past few decades. Rachel Carson rightly pointed out in Silent Spring that birds were terribly and unintentionally affected by this vile chemical. But even the lovely Rachel did not do enough to discuss the toll on DDT’s intended target. Before that ban, billions of innocent insects were being slaughtered in the name of preventing human disease. How can such a wilful destruction of life be regarded as ethical?

Now, DDT is being brought back in some countries to prevent malaria. But the implication is that an insect’s life is worth less than a human’s. If we are truly to live as one with nature, we must reject this ridiculous notion that we are in any way superior to other living species.

This doesn’t just apply to DDT. Far too many people I know who are sympathetic to the idea that DDT is just plain wrong then suggest that bed nets are a positive alternative. How can this be? Very obviously, bed nets are designed to prevent mosquitoes from eating. If I stopped the dog that lives with us (also called Silent Spring – or Springy for short) from eating, I would surely be hauled in front of the authorities and charged with cruelty. Yet it seems that stopping mosquitoes from eating is a positively wonderful thing to do. One can only imagine the torment of our little flying friends, unable to secure a decent meal because of human selfishness. Our bodies are the products of Nature. Surely, just as Nature has shared her bounty with us, so we must share ourselves with all of her creatures?

It doesn’t stop there. Bed nets are soaked with deadly chemicals, just as harmful to mosquitoes as DDT. While you think that bed nets are some fluffy alternative to insecticide, they are in fact riddled with it! For a mosquito, touching a bed net is as deadly as running headlong into a 10,000-volt electrified fence would be for you. Why don’t YOU try it, Charlie?

It gets worse: some people are talking about producing a genetically-modified version of mosquitoes that will not carry the malaria parasite. As Jonathan Matthews of GM Watch, that most principled warrior against all things genetically modified, has said: ‘Whatever the initial advantages of GM mosquitoes, their evolutionary sustainability in the longer term is simply an unknown, and this could have a devastating effect on the food chain… Mosquito larvae can be at the base of the food chain for fish, while adult mosquitoes provide food for bats and birds. Mosquitoes are also important pollinators, as plant nectar forms a large part of their diet. So such a major human intervention could have worryingly unpredictable consequences.’

This is exactly right. It doesn’t matter a damn what ‘advantages’ the GM mosquito will have in combating malaria and saving human lives – instead we must think of the ecosystem, the food chain, the natural environment. It makes me feel warm inside to know there are people like Matthews who will say what others dare not: the planet is more important than the people who live on it, and protecting Mosquito Rights – their right to fly from plant to plant and to lay down their lives for bats – is more important than enabling some African family to believe it can protect itself from disease. Africans are becoming just as arrogant as we Westerners, so thank God there are people like Matthews to bring them back to their senses.

Africans should be grateful for their diseased existence instead of dumbly thinking they can make their lives better with technology. In fact, all this technology has been a disaster. As I have pointed out many times before, there are simply too many people on the planet. Nature’s control mechanism has always been disease. At a time when people are growing too old, too healthily in the ‘developed’ world, surely there should still be one place on the planet where sickness can keep population in check?

The real parasites are human beings, not mosquitoes. While so many people bleat about unfair discrimination, you never hear anyone talk about the problem of mosquito-phobia, do you? Maybe it’s time to challenge this hatred. Our slogan should be:

‘Just because they suck your blood
Doesn’t mean that they’re no good.’

I hope you will join me in this noble cause, Charlie, and leave your mosquito-phobic ideas behind.

Ethan Greenhart is here to answer all your questions about ethical living in the twenty-first century. Email him at {encode=”” title=””}. Read his earlier columns here.

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Topics Politics


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