Friday, April 25, 2008
World Malaria Day
Today is World Malaria Day, a day for spreading awareness about this devastating disease.
You might think to yourself, "Well, it's very sad that over one million people a year die of this preventable, curable disease, but there are lots of diseases that people have the misfortune to suffer from simply because they are in third world countries. Why is this different?"
Well, unlike other diseases confined to less developed nations like polio, neglected tropical diseases, leprosy, etc. that are simply a result of being poverty stricken, (a problem for another post) malaria continues to be as prevalent as it has for one major reason: the privileged arrogance of the Western World.
And I don't mean that the way it's usually said. I don't think that our success, or capitalism, or any kind of economic circumstances are somehow causing more people to be bitten by mosquitoes.
The fact is, though, that we did a few very simple, affordable things to eliminate malaria in the first world, and we're not allowing people in nations still affected by malaria to do what we had to free ourselves of this disease.
In North America, we drained swamps to eliminate breeding grounds for malaria-carrying mosquitoes. We basically drove them to extinction. Admittedly, it's led to a shortage of wetlands that isn't something that should be without consideration, but surely the elimination of human suffering that we've achieved is worth it - especially since a wetland shortage is something that we can find important only because these actions and others leading to our prosperity have already been taken.
Because we were foolish enough to spray DDT over whole fields, we deny the poorest, most disadvantaged people in the world the protection it offers - and it is some of the very best protection - in spite of study after study showing that the type of use needed to protect people is extremely safe.
And it's not that we're simply "more enlightened" these days. Take West Nile - a zoonotic disease with a human fatality rate considered negligible before it came to America. When West Nile started affecting us, though, our response was anything but negligible. Targeted pesticides in storm drains, mosquito repellent everywhere and massive public campaigns to eliminate standing water. I have an extremely hard time believing that if malaria were still filling wetlands we've eliminated we wouldn't drain them all over again.
Whatever you think of our obligations to humanitarian projects and aid for other countries, surely we can agree that we have an obligation to do no harm. We are not meeting that obligation, and the continued prevalence of malaria is one of the most devastating consequence.
At the very least the world's poorest people should have the option to protect themselves in the ways we did. They don't, and it's not something any of us should stand for.