This is Bakouma Kpatekatola, a young man from the West African nation of Togo. In 2003, when Bakouma was 9 years old, my family became his sponsor through the Childreach-Plan USA organization. In the years since we became occasional pen pals; a few times a year we'd get a letter from him, in his native French, along with an English translation from his caseworker. Sometimes he spoke of coming to America. At Christmas the letters would contain a photo, which we ritually magnetted up on the fridge to chronicle his growth. We reciprocated with our family pictures. I sometimes wondered if he wondered about us like we wondered about him. I'm a little embarrassed to admit that I didn't really notice when we didn't receive his annual Christmas letter last year. Yesterday we received a letter from his caseworker explaining why: Bakouma died in December of malaria. He was 14 years old.
Bakouma was one of approximately one million people who died of malaria last year. Almost all of them were like him: poor, young, and African. And almost all of those deaths could have been prevented through vaccines, insecticide-treated netting, and (gasp) DDT spraying. Empirical research supports the indoor residual spraying (IRS) of DDT as not only safe, but the most economical and effective method for malaria prevention. For example, a 1996 DDT ban in South Africa, pushed by environmental groups, led to a malaria epidemic with over 60,000 cases reported in 2000. After DDT spraying resumed in 2001, infections dropped 80% in one year. Facing a mounting death toll across Africa the World Heath Organization and USAID have recently lent support to IRS using DDT, but its adoption continues to be opposed by environmental extremists relying on shoddy science and fearmongering.
Togo, incidentally, is one of the countries where IRS/DDT is not yet implemented. Would it have saved Bakouma Kpatekatola? Maybe, possibly, probably. The grim calculus involved in that what-if is, at this point, strictly academic. But it's not too late to tip the odds in favor of the millions of other kids in Africa at risk. In memory of Bakouma, please join me in supporting Africa Fighting Malaria which advocates the use of all tools for malaria eradication, including DDT. Sponsor a kid through Childreach-Plan USA. Write your congressmen and President Obama and encourage them to continue the USAID policy of support for IRS/DDT. Finally, if you're so inclined, please remember Bakouma tonight in your prayers. Thanks.