Nearing a Sunset on Monsters

 

shutterstock_200494427Some months back, I wrote about how the Guinea worm — a vile and disgusting parasite that used to infect millions in Sub-Saharan Africa — is now on the brink of extinction. There is more good news on the war against two similar parasites. First, and amazingly when you consider just how recently we were powerless against it, polio appears to also be on the verge of eradication. Second, and though we’ve a very long way to go yet, we’re making significant headway against malaria. It’s entirely possible that both of these scourges could follow smallpox into the history books within our lifetimes; with polio, perhaps within the next decade or so.

It’s difficult to overstate how significant the progress has been, especially in Africa, or how heavy the human cost these diseases have wrought. As recently as the year 2000, malaria killed about 850,000 annually; it’s about half that number now. Polio infected about 350,000 in 1988; it was down to a few hundred cases earlier this decade and it’s in the low dozens now, restricted to three countries (Nigeria, Pakistan, and Afghanistan). When you consider the human costs endured by so many people for so long, it’s little wonder why some places have struggled to develop.

Getting over the finish lines with these diseases will be an extraordinarily difficult, expensive, and unspectacular affair. For polio — for which the vectors are relatively easy to control — this likely means keeping up what we’ve been doing, albeit under awful circumstances with regard to Pakistan and Afghanistan (bear in mind that polio vaccination programs there were, quite literally, subject to a CIA-sponsored conspiracy). For malaria, it’ll take an ever-changing combination of strategies, including vaccination (a weak one has already been approved and stronger ones appear to be in the pipeline), new products, better deployment of existing ones, mucking around with mosquito genomes, and lots of monitoring. So, so much monitoring.

Worst of all, keeping up the preventative measures for a period after a disease seems to have disappeared is necessary for all the same reasons it’s important to finish one’s antibiotic regime (and subject to all the same challenges, just on a societal rather than a personal scale). Turning those last few rounding errors’ worth of infections into a genuine zero will be devilishly difficult and giving up too early can either undue years of work, or leave us with resurgent, highly-resistant strains.

The natural world is a cruel place, whether as the result of mankind’s fall from grace, or natural selection just doing its thing without a care or conscious thought (in this regard, both hypotheses seem equally valid to me). Through much hard work by many players — pharmaceutical companies, private charities, and, yes, even some government programs — it’s becoming not only slightly less awful, but significantly less so. That’s good news, because there’s no shortage of human evil left to deal with.

There are 28 comments.

Become a member to join the conversation. Or sign in if you're already a member.
  1. Duane Oyen Member
    Duane Oyen
    @DuaneOyen

    Doesn’t eradication of the Guinea worm, just like the elimination of the anopheles mosquito, reek of speciesism, and require a defensive response by the protectors against extinction of endangered species?

    • #1
  2. Tom Meyer, Ed. Contributor
    Tom Meyer, Ed.
    @tommeyer

    Duane Oyen: Doesn’t eradication of the Guinea worm, just like the elimination of the anopheles mosquito, reek of speciesism …

    Yes.

    Duane Oyen: … and require a defensive response by the protectors against extinction of endangered species?

    No. :)

    • #2
  3. Aaron Miller Member
    Aaron Miller
    @AaronMiller

    I’m wary of attempts to eradicate species because of unknown effects on the larger ecosystem. How many birds, bats, frogs, and lizards eat the pests we hate? Bacteria and viruses similarly keep animal populations in check (never a respectable end when that population is human), but at least don’t serve as food for other species.

    That said, whichever political party eliminates mosquitoes will win the South.

    • #3
  4. Johnny Dubya Member
    Johnny Dubya
    @JohnnyDubya

    Duane Oyen:Doesn’t eradication of the Guinea worm, just like the elimination of the anopheles mosquito, reek of speciesism, and require a defensive response by the protectors against extinction of endangered species?

    Add this to the gigantic list of illogic and cognitive dissonance on the left.

    Most radical animal-rights folks would not have a problem with the elimination of the Guinea worm.  However, many of them see a human life as being no more valuable as that of, say, a panda, because that involves a value judgment.  They don’t realize that the eradication of a parasite also involves a value judgment, as does favoring charismatic megafauna.

    • #4
  5. 1967mustangman Member
    1967mustangman
    @1967mustangman

    Duane Oyen:Doesn’t eradication of the Guinea worm, just like the elimination of the anopheles mosquito, reek of speciesism, and require a defensive response by the protectors against extinction of endangered species?

    If you were serious my response would be: [Editors Note: This comment has been redacted because the maneuver the commenter suggested is physically impossible.]

    • #5
  6. Tom Meyer, Ed. Contributor
    Tom Meyer, Ed.
    @tommeyer

    Johnny Dubya: They don’t realize that the eradication of a parasite also involves a value judgment, as does favoring charismatic megafauna.

    As a self-identified member of the charismatic megafauna community …

    • #6
  7. lesserson Member
    lesserson
    @LesserSonofBarsham

    Tom Meyer, Ed.:

    Johnny Dubya: They don’t realize that the eradication of a parasite also involves a value judgment, as does favoring charismatic megafauna.

    As a self-identified member of the charismatic megafauna community …

    It’s things like this that make me love this site.

    • #7
  8. Spin Member
    Spin
    @Spin

    I once read that it is estimated that half the people who have ever lived have died from malaria.  It is clearly impossible to know that for sure, but here’s one guy at least who thinks it’s plausible.

    In his book The Hole in Our Gospel, Richard Stearns talks about the handful of things that have been done to prevent malaria and the diseases caused by the guinea worm.  He talks about what happens when a village has a well, and why that radically changes that village.  Interesting stuff.

    • #8
  9. Herbert E. Meyer Contributor
    Herbert E. Meyer
    @HerbertEMeyer

    This report of progress against malaria and polio is part of a larger story that just isn’t getting the attention it deserves: Namely, that life on earth is improving at a rate never before seen in history.  In just my lifetime, average human life span has increased by about 18 years, and the percentage of humanity living in extreme poverty has, for the first time, dropped below 10 percent.

    We’ve still a long way to go, but it’s a shame — and a political failure — that we aren’t telling people, especially young people, about these wonderful trends.

    • #9
  10. Misthiocracy Member
    Misthiocracy
    @Misthiocracy

    Tom Meyer, Ed.: Some months back, I wrote about how the Guinea worm — a vile and disgusting parasite that used to infect millions in Sub-Saharan Africa — is now on the brink of extinction.

    Don’t tell the World Wildlife Fund. They’ll launch a campaign to save the species.

    • #10
  11. Eugene Kriegsmann Member
    Eugene Kriegsmann
    @EugeneKriegsmann

    I listen to a superb podcast called This Week in Parasitism (TWIP). It is an ongoing discussion between two extremely knowledgeable professors from Columbia University, Dickson Despommier and Vincent Racaniello. Despommier specialty is eukaryotic parasites like the Plasmodium which causes malaria. Racaniello is a virologist. Given what I have heard so far on the podcast I am not sanguine that Malaria will ever be completely wiped out. The numbers infected with it, and the economic issues of the countries in which it is most common definitely mediate against that outcome.

    Anyway, the podcast is excellent. I am only 24 podcasts into it. There are a total now of over 100 and it continues adding a new episode approximately every two weeks. It is available on iTunes and several other sources. They also have another podcast that they do called This Week in Virology (TWIV) which I have not yet gotten into, but plan to.

    • #11
  12. Marion Evans Member
    Marion Evans
    @MarionEvans

    Africa has enormous potential if child mortality starts to fall and women’s health improves. The birth rate will fall and the standard of living will rise. If corruption can be reduced, it will boom.

    • #12
  13. Douglas Member
    Douglas
    @Douglas

    It’s going to be interesting to see how some of these third world areas… particularly Africa… respond in the reproductive arena. Will birthrates come down with fewer children dying, a natural balancing? Or will they continue to skyrocket?

    • #13
  14. Randy Weivoda Moderator
    Randy Weivoda
    @RandyWeivoda

    Herbert E. Meyer:This report of progress against malaria and polio is part of a larger story that just isn’t getting the attention it deserves: Namely, that life on earth is improving at a rate never before seen in history. In just my lifetime, average human life span has increased by about 18 years, and the percentage of humanity living in extreme poverty has, for the first time, dropped below 10 percent.

    We’ve still a long way to go, but it’s a shame — and a political failure — that we aren’t telling people, especially young people, about these wonderful trends.

    Agreed.  It’s the nature of the news business.  It’s not news if a million people took a long-distance flight and all arrived safely.  When a couple dozen die in a crash, that’s a headline.  And people tend to forget about the horrors of yesteryear, so when something terrible happens today, they think it’s the worst thing that ever happened.

    People talk about how the modern world with it’s rapid transportation is going to allow infectious diseases to spread like wildfire across the globe.  But the information is going to spread faster, and that allows people to take precautions against a massive outbreak.  Unless it’s Zombie Fever, of course.

    • #14
  15. Marion Evans Member
    Marion Evans
    @MarionEvans

    Douglas:It’s going to be interesting to see how some of these third world areas… particularly Africa… respond in the reproductive arena. Will birthrates come down with fewer children dying, a natural balancing? Or will they continue to skyrocket?

    Come down. You see it already in countries with lower child mortality.

    • #15
  16. Fern Member
    Fern
    @Fern

    Aaron Miller:I’m wary of attempts to eradicate species because of unknown effects on the larger ecosystem. How many birds, bats, frogs, and lizards eat the pests we hate? Bacteria and viruses similarly keep animal populations in check (never a respectable end when that population is human), but at least don’t serve as food for other species.

    One hears claims like this frequently–I believe it’s the rationale behind moves like protecting the delta smelt–but I’m skeptical.  What we think of as a “food chain” is more accurately described as a “food web,” and I’d think that if a predator’s delectable guinea worm became extinct it would just find another bug or parasite to eat.  I imagine there are plenty of options?

    • #16
  17. 1967mustangman Member
    1967mustangman
    @1967mustangman

    How long before we see an article that says I’d rather be bitten by a mosquito with malaria than a GMO insect.

    • #17
  18. Bryan G. Stephens Thatcher
    Bryan G. Stephens
    @BryanGStephens

    Kiwanis has set its sights on neonatal tetnas. The Polio is in large part thanks to Rotary. It is not just government that does this.

    • #18
  19. Aaron Miller Member
    Aaron Miller
    @AaronMiller

    Fern:

    Aaron Miller:I’m wary of attempts to eradicate species because of unknown effects on the larger ecosystem. [….]

    One hears claims like this frequently–I believe it’s the rationale behind moves like protecting the delta smelt–but I’m skeptical. What we think of as a “food chain” is more accurately described as a “food web,” and I’d think that if a predator’s delectable guinea worm became extinct it would just find another bug or parasite to eat. I imagine there are plenty of options?

    Yes, “food web” is more accurate. I’m not categorically opposed to tampering with ecosystems or deliberately attacking organism populations.

    In fact, my usual response to complaints about invasive species like pythons in the Everglades or kudzu in our forests is, “Oh well. Ecosystems change. It’s a native species now.” The Left’s love of “endangered” species, when not simply an excuse to seize land or power (like “global warming”), often reflects an anthropocentric arrogance; as if to say, “Now that I’m alive, the world will stop changing. Everything, stay where you are!” Extinctions and other dramatic changes occur without humanity’s input. And accidents happen.

    But we can err in the opposite direction. Most ecosystems are too complex for even the most learned team of biologists to predict the effects of removing a species or two from the equation. As with weather, even our best researchers can only guesstimate. So we should not be eager in our manipulations.

    • #19
  20. Bryan G. Stephens Thatcher
    Bryan G. Stephens
    @BryanGStephens

    Aaron Miller:

    Fern:

    Yes, “food web” is more accurate. I’m not categorically opposed to tampering with ecosystems or deliberately attacking organism populations.

    In fact, my usual response to complaints about invasive species like pythons in the Everglades or kudzu in our forests is, “Oh well. Ecosystems change. It’s a native species now.” The Left’s love of “endangered” species, when not simply an excuse to seize land or power (like “global warming”), often reflects an anthropocentric arrogance; as if to say, “Now that I’m alive, the world will stop changing. Everything, stay where you are!” Extinctions and other dramatic changes occur without humanity’s input. And accidents happen.

    But we can err in the opposite direction. Most ecosystems are too complex for even the most learned team of biologists to predict the effects of removing a species or two from the equation. As with weather, even our best researchers can only guesstimate. So we should not be eager in our manipulations.

    But every last mosquito can just die. Die. All of them die.

    • #20
  21. Proud Skeptic Member
    Proud Skeptic
    @ProudSkeptic

    In the meantime…

    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3300366/UN-planning-international-tribunal-climate-justice-allow-nations-developed-countries-court.html

    I wonder if when the “developing countries” are rubbing their hands together thinking of the money they plan to bilk the developed world out of, they will take into account the value of the West’s efforts to eradicate these horrible diseases.

    • #21
  22. Nick Stuart Member
    Nick Stuart
    @NickStuart

    Maybe use DDT. As an additive in paint for interior of dwellings?

    Enviros have the blood of millions on their hands because of their getting DDT and asbestos (for water pipe for potable water and sanitation) proscribed.

    • #22
  23. Ontheleftcoast Member
    Ontheleftcoast
    @Ontheleftcoast

    It’s a delicate balance. Of the 162 confirmed cases of paralytic polio reported in the US between 1980 and 1999, 154 were vaccine-associated paralytic polio (VAPP) caused by live oral poliovirus vaccine (OPV.) In 2000, the US abandoned the use of OPV and has relied on the injectable vaccine since.

    The resurgence of bacterial infections is another lurking monster. Antibiotic resistance/superbugs is also a more complicated problem than is generally thought:

    …most popular pharmaceuticals, NSAIDs, statins, anti-depressants, anti-diabetics, etc., also have substantial antibiotic activity.  Most of these pharmaceuticals started out as phytoalexins and then were found to also have pharmaceutical activity.  Pharmaceuticals are just repurposed natural antibiotics.  When you take an aspirin or Metformin or a statin, you are taking an antibiotic.  When you take a pharmaceutical, you are selecting for multiple antibiotic resistance plasmids in your gut flora and you may be making the next superbug.

    In other words, drugs used for minor discomfort and to offset pathologies of predominantly lifestyle related diseases shorten the useful lifespan of the antibiotics that have saved so many people. Antibiotic resistant bacteria aren’t caused by the products of drug companies (whether officially antibiotics or not): Resistant bacteria have been found in the feces of pre-Columbian Andean mummies. It’s just that without the massive use of isolated chemicals with antibiotic activity (be they naturally derived, semi-synthetic or synthetic,) antibiotic resistant bacteria aren’t intensively selected for, so polydrug resistance doesn’t happen either.

    • #23
  24. aardo vozz Member
    aardo vozz
    @aardovozz

    Eugene Kriegsmann:I listen to a superb podcast called This Week in Parasitism (TWIP). It is an ongoing discussion between two extremely knowledgeable professors from Columbia University, Dickson Despommier and Vincent Racaniello. Despommier specialty is eukaryotic parasites like the Plasmodium which causes malaria. Racaniello is a virologist. Given what I have heard so far on the podcast I am not sanguine that Malaria will ever be completely wiped out. The numbers infected with it, and the economic issues of the countries in which it is most common definitely mediate against that outcome.

    Anyway, the podcast is excellent. I am only 24 podcasts into it. There are a total now of over 100 and it continues adding a new episode approximately every two weeks. It is available on iTunes and several other sources. They also have another podcast that they do called This Week in Virology (TWIV) which I have not yet gotten into, but plan to.

    This sounds very interesting. Have they given any talks about lobbyists or political consultants?

    • #24
  25. Songwriter Member
    Songwriter
    @user_19450

    Bryan G. Stephens:

    Aaron Miller:

    Fern:

    Yes, “food web” is more accurate. I’m not categorically opposed to tampering with ecosystems or deliberately attacking organism populations.

    In fact, my usual response to complaints about invasive species like pythons in the Everglades or kudzu in our forests is, “Oh well. Ecosystems change. It’s a native species now.” The Left’s love of “endangered” species, when not simply an excuse to seize land or power (like “global warming”), often reflects an anthropocentric arrogance; as if to say, “Now that I’m alive, the world will stop changing. Everything, stay where you are!” Extinctions and other dramatic changes occur without humanity’s input. And accidents happen.

    But we can err in the opposite direction. Most ecosystems are too complex for even the most learned team of biologists to predict the effects of removing a species or two from the equation. As with weather, even our best researchers can only guesstimate. So we should not be eager in our manipulations.

    But every last mosquito can just die. Die. All of them die.

    And wasps. I. Hate. Wasps.

    • #25
  26. 1967mustangman Member
    1967mustangman
    @1967mustangman

    Proud Skeptic:In the meantime…

    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3300366/UN-planning-international-tribunal-climate-justice-allow-nations-developed-countries-court.html

    I wonder if when the “developing countries” are rubbing their hands together thinking of the money they plan to bilk the developed world out of, they will take into account the value of the West’s efforts to eradicate these horrible diseases.

    We have a Navy, an Air Force, and Seal Team 6.  I’m not that worried.

    • #26
  27. Duane Oyen Member
    Duane Oyen
    @DuaneOyen

    Herbert E. Meyer:This report of progress against malaria and polio is part of a larger story that just isn’t getting the attention it deserves: Namely, that life on earth is improving at a rate never before seen in history. In just my lifetime, average human life span has increased by about 18 years, and the percentage of humanity living in extreme poverty has, for the first time, dropped below 10 percent.

    We’ve still a long way to go, but it’s a shame — and a political failure — that we aren’t telling people, especially young people, about these wonderful trends.

    Imagine how well we could do against malaria if we were allowed to also intelligently, not indiscriminately, apply DDT.

    • #27
  28. Brian Clendinen Member
    Brian Clendinen
    @BrianClendinen

    WHO policy on DDT since the mid 2000s has been use in and around residential areas.

    • #28

Comments are closed because this post is more than six months old. Please write a new post if you would like to continue this conversation.