U.S. senator does a "slam dunk" for Africa Malaria Day
By Jim Fisher-Thompson, Washington File Staff Writer
Washington - Because a citizen of Kansas invented basketball, it was only fitting that Kansas Senator Sam Brownback would drive home his concern with health issues in Africa by participating in a "Dunk Malaria" event in his office on Africa Malaria Day.
New York businessman Lance Laifer brought a small basketball net and ball to the senator's Capitol Hill office April 25 for Brownback to shoot a symbolic basket, helping to mark Africa Malaria Day and to showcase the businessman's efforts to battle the disease, which kills at least 1 million people a year worldwide, according to the World Health Organization - 80 percent of them in sub-Saharan Africa.
Laifer said the basketball net was symbolic of bednets, which he said are "one arrow that we have in our anti-malaria quiver." The bednets are treated with insecticides to suppress mosquitoes, which are vectors of the disease.
Laifer, who is president of Laifer Capital Management Inc., said he wanted to increase awareness of the killer disease's effect on Africa by appealing to the sports-mindedness of his fellow New Yorkers.
One day, he said, he walked all over the city, from lower Manhattan to Harlem, carrying a small basketball hoop with net attached "to raise people's awareness of the problem. I was really startled to see how few people even knew that malaria was such a killer in Africa and that here was a disease that is both treatable and preventable."
That marked the start of his nongovernmental organization (NGO), Hedge Funds vs. Malaria, which, combined with sponsorship from the New York Knickerbockers professional basketball team, helped kick off the "Dunk Malaria" campaign in March. Money raised helped set up "malaria-free zones" in villages in Ghana, Nigeria, Kenya and Tanzania.
ROLE OF PESTICIDES IN FIGHTING DISEASE
American University professor George Ayittey, president of the NGO Free Africa Foundation, worked with Laifer in Africa on the malaria project. He told Brownback, "We have had some success on the prevention front," but that effort, he said, did not include spraying DDT in homes, a practice employed in the 1950s and 1960s that effectively suppressed mosquitoes but came under fire from environmental groups because of the insecticide's overuse and resultant environmental damage.
DDT is one of 12 poisons banned from use by the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs), although the treaty does allow continued use of DDT for vector control in countries prone to malaria. This exemption has been included because alternative pesticides are frequently too expensive for developing nations suffering high disease rates.
POP chemicals are proven to be dangerous to both human health and the environment because they resist chemical breakdown and tend to accumulate in the environment and in human tissue. The United States banned most uses of DDT in 1972.
The U.S. State Department urged the Congress to move forward with ratification of the POPs treaty.
Many African nations have been dissuaded from preventative DDT spraying, in part because of objections from the European Union (EU). The EU, which trades with many African countries, has said it would be reluctant to accept agricultural products if widespread spraying took place.
According to Paul Driessen, a policy analyst with the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), who attended the Brownback event, raising awareness of the value of DDT in fighting malaria is the way to go, attributing the most effective suppression of the disease to its use in the past. He said, "Success breeds success and interest. More and more communities and countries are going to say, 'We want the DDT.'"
Brownback, who said, "You don't need to sell me on the idea," added that he would be happy to write a letter to World Bank President Paul Wolfowitz, whose organization helps fund anti-malaria programs on the continent, emphasizing the need to take a multipronged approach to malaria prevention, including spraying DDT.
Brownback, who has made a number of humanitarian visits to Africa, including to the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda and Kenya in December 2005, said he was especially struck by the mounting death toll from malaria on the continent.
Other recommended methods for controlling mosquito populations and preventing malaria are source reduction, through reducing breeding habit, and insecticide-treated bednets, which protect a sleeper from being bitten. (See the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Web site for additional information.)
The National Institutes of Health issued a statement April 25 noting that President Bush announced the President's Malaria Initiative (PMI) in June 2005.
The initiative is designed to cut malaria deaths in half after three years in at least 12 target countries. The PMI, active in Angola, Tanzania and Uganda, is led by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and the Department of Health and Human Services, which includes the National Institutes of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. For more information, see www.fightingmalaria.gov.
Additional information about the project can be found on Laifer's Web site.