The Risk-Monger

April 25 was World Malaria Day 2013. It is marked in my calendar as a black day to commemorate the thousands who die every day from malaria. As these are mostly infants and mostly in Africa, they have no voices in Brussels or Washington, where erroneous decisions were made decades ago to ban the pesticide DDT without considering the consequences of such a precautionary fail. The science on the risks was wrong, the decision on banning DDT was politically motivated and the tens of millions who have since died needlessly (increasing impoverishment at the same time) was catastrophic. Knowing these facts with hindsight, no leader has ever had the courage to stand up and reverse the ban on DDT or admit that the decision was wrong. For the last four decades, we kept being told that the precautionary banning of DDT would lead to other alternatives that would finish the global malarial eradication process that had almost succeeded in the 1970s, but the best we could come up with is (I wish I were joking) mosquito nets.

So we have this day to mark the failure of global policy-making and the danger of letting passionate activists lead precaution-based policies without proper science, debate or alternatives. Except this year I noticed something sad: nobody seemed to care about World Malaria Day. No significant media coverage. No public recognition of the serious loss of life. Why is this? The WHO is now reporting ranges of infections in a different, and questionable manner that suggest a slight drop in the African death-rate (due perhaps to poverty reduction levels), programmes are coupling malaria with TB and AIDS to hide the tragedy of the preventable malaria deaths and, well, the world is pretending to move on because we have catastrophic climate change and its more serious threat to penguins. Still malaria is killing thousands every day and parasites are becoming resistant to certain treatments. Children fortunate enough to survive malaria, face a lifetime of serious disability. We should still care.

So I went to some of the NGO websites to see how they had accepted responsibility for this dark moment in the history of environmental activism. The European Environment Agency, chief architect of the principle of precautionary infallibility, was silent. So was WWF. Now the Risk-Monger did not expect Greenpeace to apologise for the millions of victims of their myopic anti-pesticide policies, but he was thoroughly disgusted to see what they had put on their website. They chose to celebrate World Penguin Day, with fun factoids about penguin poo and cute pictures. They could have been a little sensitive to the catastrophic losses the world has endured from their eco-activism fail.

The European Commission used the opportunity to blow their horn on how they are helping in the fight against malaria. For example, in the last 11 years, the EU has funded “€209 million in 87 research projects into the disease and how to control it” plus an extra €50 million for research into malaria drug clinical trials. To put this into perspective, Bill and Melinda Gates have donated over two billion USD for fighting malaria and 1.5 billion USD to the global fund to fight AIDS, TB and malaria. Only the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation seems to realise that so much more needs to be done (and they donate nothing to penguins!).

The Risk-Monger recently got into a disagreement with some former risk academic colleagues who still seem to be arguing the same things we had been advocating since the late 90’s (eg, more credible science in the decision-making processes). With the world no longer bothering to listen to the research community on how to effectively eradicate malaria once and for all, and EU policymakers stuck in a participatory engagement quagmire with non-scientific activists who demand to be listened to, perhaps it is time to develop a “post-evidence-based policy strategy”. We will have to learn how to manage in a world where policy is made according to a consensus of activist stakeholders and where science and cold, hard reality does not matter for much. Our ability to ignore thousands of deaths from malaria every day is a clear indication of this sorry situation.

Happy World Malaria Day … for anyone who remembered.

 

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Comments

  1. Thx for your article. Very informative.

    Eradication of Malaria is one of the 8 Millennium Development Goals, I remember.

    http://www.un.org/millenniumgoals/aids.shtml
    Target 6.C:
    Have halted by 2015 and begun to reverse the incidence of malaria and other major diseases

    The global estimated incidence of malaria has decreased by 17 per cent since 2000, and malaria-specific mortality rates by 25 per cent.
    Countries with improved access to malaria control interventions saw child mortality rates fall by about 20 per cent.
    Thanks to increased funding, more children are sleeping under insecticide-treated bed nets in sub-Saharan Africa.
    The anti-tuberculosis drive is closing in on a 50 per cent cut in the 1990 death rate and more TB patients are being successfully treated.
    Featured stories

    Expanded prevention and control triggers 25 per cent drop in malaria deaths

    1. Thanks Sven, I am not sure on the numbers being reported out of the WHO now with reporting ranges between 660,000 and 1.2 million pa (Oxfam claim a higher under-reported level) – perhaps this is in anticipation of MDG reviews. Development is key and more focus is needed in the Congo and Nigeria. But we shouldn’t be reporting any if we had continued the vector control exercises that were so successful in the 1950s in other parts of the world.

  2. Well done reporting this: sorry to say I did read this until today.

    we watched a film recently about the Malaria issues in Africa called Mary and Martha.

    It was most revealing.

    If only we spent just 0.1% of all the money spent on arms, or really curtailed the greed of money makers to address such issues then we would be seeing the end of diseases like Malrai and some of the others we see around the world.

    1. This is not rocket science, it is just awareness and a fractional bit of concern for people. One month of US QE-Infinity (+/- 85 billion USD hot off the press) diverted to Africa could solve all water-sanitation issues. But who would notice?

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