Last chance for DDT – its use is neglected while people die of malaria

Thanks to the pragmatism of African health officials and the efforts of some in the U.S. government, the insecticide DDT is still repelling and killing mosquitoes in Africa nations, saving thousands of people from malaria and other infectious diseases each year. But its days may be numbered. While the Bush administration and the World Health Organisation have argued in favour of DDT over the past two years, so-called environmentalists and companies selling alternatives to DDT are pushing to prevent it from being deployed, says Roger Bate, a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.

President Bush launched the President's Malaria Initiative (PMI) in 2005 with the explicit aim of using all the best methods for preventing the disease. As a result:

  • Last year DDT was procured with taxpayer funds for use indoors in tiny amounts in Zambia.

  • The tactic, known as indoor residual spraying, or IRS, is cheap and highly effective, repelling and killing mosquitoes before they can bite and transmit disease while avoiding widespread, outdoor spraying.

  • The PMI has not procured this insecticide for any other nation, but has funded alternatives to DDT, such as deltamethrin, in Uganda, Angola, Tanzania and Rwanda.

    With the notable exception of the PMI, and occasionally the Global Fund for AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, no agencies seem to want to sustain a spray programme.

  • Yet Mozambique, which has very poor health infrastructure, has managed to sustain a well-run indoor residual spraying programme for more than seven years by partnering with neighbouring South Africa and Swaziland:

  • As a result of this initiative, the country's malaria burden has dramatically decreased. Rates have dropped by 88 per cent among children in the key target areas.

    Instead of excuses, regional leaders made malaria control sustainable, says Bate.

    Source: Roger Bate, Last Chance for DDT, Wall Street Journal, November 5, 2007.

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    FMF Policy Bulletin/ 13 November 2007
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