Dr. Mareena Thaha Reffai, writing to The Island on 9th August has bemoaned the fact that “However much one may strive, the anti-dengue measures are bound to fail unless…..” etc. But Dr.Reffai knows that such good advice falls on deaf ears. There is over-whelming evidence that smoking, or even breathing secondhand cigarette smoke causes cancer. But there are many medical practitioners and highly educated public figures who continue to smoke. Available data confirm that excessive consumption of sugar and poor life styles lead to obesity and diabetes. But do they heed? So, to expect that the public will tackle Dengue is to believe that there is “pie in the sky.”
Human lives are being lost every day. The relevant agencies have published statistics showing that the deaths are increasing inexorably. It is not the cure of Dengue disease that we are looking at, but the PREVENTION” of the Dengue disease. Government agencies have been harassing people and making criminals out of them, pushing to remove all puddles of water. This is not an easy task in densely populated wet-zone communities, where every nook and cranny, or the plastic throwaways can harbour mosquitoes. Roadsides are full of uncleared garbage. The “cleared”garbage remains in mounds rotting and breeding insects. The authorities fog the neighbourhoods with chemical vapours, claiming to destroy the mosquito. These expensive procedures are ineffective. Too much of it is unsafe. But there is a well-established fail-safe way to get rid of the dengue mosquito, but ignored. Sri Lanka was one of the first nations to have successfully crushed the malaria mosquito in the aftermath of its independence, using DDT and opening the dry zone to new settlers.
DDT was misused in the naive early decades of industrial agriculture,and its negative results were highlighted in the famous book by Rachel Carson entitled “Silent Spring”, published in 1962.The use of DDT was banned by the US president Richard Nixon in 1975,to capture the vote of the vociferous California “environmental” lobby. The WHO also banned the use of DDT, although the main-stream scientific organizations recommend the ban ONLY FOR AGRICULTURAL use.DDT kills all insects, be they insects beneficial to us, or dangerous to us, and hence it is not suitable for general use.
Furthermore, excessive use produces resistant strains of insects. The ban on DDtuntil we understand it better was also a proper course of action in1975. But we have gone to the other extreme. Scientists have suggested that its domestic use be allowed, but not its agricultural use. However, the political lobby was too strong and the WHO itself bowed to the US-led line of thinking pointing to the persistence of DDT in the environment. Of course, plastics that came into general use at that time, even at the level of shopping bags, and many petroleum fuel products, all have the same characteristic of not decaying. But this was (and is) ignored by the”environmentalists”. India, the Soviet Union and China largely ignored the ban on DDT and used it. India even uses DDT in its tea estates – a serious infraction of the Stockholm treaty on persistent pesticides. DDT is strongly present in Indian tea which is imported to Sri Lanka for making up our shortfalls in production (but no NGO seems to object to that!).
In 2006, the WHO reversed its decision and approved the domestic use of DDT, especially for mosquito control. The “domestic use” means you mix a few drops of DDT to many gallons of water and spray (as a mist) in every room INSIDE the house, and possibly on the verandah, but NOT outside the house. Such an application every six months is sufficient to ensure that the dengue mosquito will NOT come into the house. Dengue will be controlled effectively and efficiently, at the cost of a fraction of a penny, with no negative environmental effect. Malaysia has proposed such a plan of action in regard to its Dengue problem. What prevents Sri Lanka from using such a simple, well-tested solution against Dengue?
Unfortunately, lobby groups and NGOs labeling themselves as champions of the environment, human well-being, promoters of organic foods, promoters of “traditional living”, politics of a”toxin-free” nation, “environmental justice”, etc., have enforced themselves on public opinion, mainly by rousing public fear about “toxins” and environmental degradation by the use of “modern technology”. Many of these organizations are backed by upper-class acolytes of internet-medics like Dr. Marcola, or the California-based “truthout.org“, and similar websites, that they follow uncritically, and with evangelical fervor. The snake-oil man and the street -corner lobbyists of yore have been replaced by today’s internet medics and self-styled environmental experts.
Further, unlike scientists, these self-styled “environmental” NGOs have simple explanations to all chronic illnesses. For instance they would have us ban agrochemicals because they “cause chronic diseases”, be it cancer, kidney disease or diabetes. Powerful ministers and a political monk claim that glyphosate is a toxin that should be banned, and so be it! Pandering to public fear was practiced by Nixon in 1975 and today in Sri Lanka. A Rajarata University lecturer (a recent medical graduate from Kelaniya), and a Kelaniya lady who claims to hear the voice of God Naatha, have also claimed that agro-chemicals like glyphosate cause kidney disease in the Rajarata,although glyphosate has NOT been detected in the food or drinking water in the Rajarata. Clearly, evidenced-based action has been replaced by irrational approaches that will not work.
It is easy to show that the onset of chronic disease is anti-correlated with the use of agro-chemicals. Correlations between two tendencies are not significant, but anti-correlations are. Countries like New Zealand, Malaysia or Singapore, which use up to ten times the agro-chemicals used by dry-zone farmers in Sri Lanka, El Salvador, or Africa, have NO chronic diseases. The low-end user countries that may even practice traditional agriculture do have chronic diseases! It is easy to show that “traditional” solutions based on citronella oil and “Maduruthala” (Ocimumsanctum, a Basil plant) fail totally against a foe like the Dengue mosquito. So, let us fight it with the right weapons, while the clean-up programs proceed.
Unfortunately the NGOs are ready to fight tooth and nail against DDT. Many don’t understand that every substance is a toxin if the recommended dose is exceeded. DDT is NOT a toxin when correctly used. But the NGOs prefer dire predictions and push simplistic politically popular solutions. They need such “fights” to collect funds. Leading members of these lobby groups and even medical trade unions present themselves as “eco- heroes”, perhaps by conviction, or for furthering their own political stature.