Fighting malaria with sound scientific evidence

In the Saturday Star (Tackling Africa’s greatest killer, Apr. 23, 2011) Sheree Bega interviews Prof Tiaan de Jager on ways of controlling malaria and reports, “Due to effects on health associated with DDT exposure, the UN and the World Health Organisation (WHO) propose to reduce the application of DDT worldwide by 2014 and totally phase out its use in the next decade, ‘if not sooner’” The news item further states, “DDT is linked to cancer, diabetes, developmental problems in foetuses and children as well as decreased fertility”. This is absolute nonsense and a complete misrepresentation of the facts. The WHO recently released a 319 page report entitled DDT In Indoor Residual Spraying: Human Health Aspects where it unambiguously finds that there are no adverse human health effects from DDT when used to control malaria. There can be no disputing the extraordinary impact that DDT has had, and continues to have in disease control programmes in SA and around the world.

Communities have grown and prospered thanks to the remarkable degree to which DDT saves lives, contrary to the expectations of critics who argue that it is harmful to humans. It is an indisputable fact that since DDT was first used over 60 years ago there is no evidence that would comply with the most basic epidemiologic criteria to prove cause and effect to show that DDT environmental exposure is harmful to humans. The insecticide was used intensively and extensively across many developed countries with advanced health care systems starting in the mid-1940’s. After almost 30 years of use they stopped. It has now been approximately 40 years since the use of DDT was discontinued in developed countries and during all this time environmental scientists have conducted thousands of investigations at great financial cost and vast numbers of papers have been published. Despite millions of dollars spent on research, scientists still cannot identify any harm.

Moreover, the Conference of the Parties to the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants, which evaluates the continued need for DDT for disease vector control approximately every 2 years in consultation with the WHO, concluded that there “is a continued need for DDT for disease vector control” and there is in fact no timeline for it to be phased out.

Author: Jasson Urbach is a director of the Health Policy Unit and an economist with the Free Market Foundation. The views expressed in the article are his own.

FMF Policy Bulletin/ 3 May 2011

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