African nations lift DDT ban to fight malaria
U2 lead singer Bono in Africa recently promoting the use of
mosquito nets to combat malaria. But some African nations want
to start using DDT again, saying the pesticide is the most
effective way to eradicate the deadly disease that kills a
million Africans a year.
Concerns over environmental damage led to a ban on the pesticide in the United States in 1972 and later in many parts of the world, including several African countries.
But now some leaders in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania say the ability of the chemical, whose full name is dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane, to kill mosquitoes is their last hope to stem the continent's number one killer: malaria.
Malaria kills 1 million Africans a year, and the toll is rising. One African child dies every 30 seconds from malaria, three times the toll from AIDS.
"DDT is the answer to our problems," said Dr John Rwakimari, head of the national malaria program in Uganda, where malaria rates have increased five-fold in 15 years. "We must do something."
European Union officials recently warned Uganda that it would be "taking a risk" if it reintroduced DDT.
In Kenya, flower growers say Western supermarkets are wary of the chemical, putting the nation's $US400 million ($A528 million) horticulture industry at risk. Kenya is the top supplier of fresh-cut flowers to the EU.
But African officials complain of hypocrisy on the part of Westerners, who used DDT to eradicate their own malaria problems decades ago and now push Africa to rely on harder-to-implement methods such as mosquito nets.
"The human cost of the Western policies is very high," said economist James Shikwat, director of the Inter Region Economic Network in Nairobi.
Mr Shikwat said that in addition to the human toll, malaria cost Africa $US12 billion a year in lost gross national product and absorbed more than 20 per cent of health-care costs in some countries.
Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni said his country would proceed with DDT spraying, despite the EU warning.
"Why should we look on and watch our people die when it is within our means to make a difference?" Mr Museveni said during a speech in April on Africa Malaria Day.
The US has re-evaluated its stance, with the Bush Administration saying recently that the Agency for International Development would provide money for spraying this year as part of its $US99 million anti-malaria program.
DDT projects funded by USAID are expected to begin this year in Ethiopia, Zambia and Mozambique, according to Richard Greene, director of the agency's Office of Health, Infectious Diseases and Nutrition in Washington. Funding is also available to five other countries, including Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania, he said.
Several African countries have had DDT-spraying programs in recent years with impressive results. South Africa, which reintroduced DDT in 2003 after a seven-year ban, had an 80 per cent reduction in malaria rates.
But environmentalists worry about the long-term effect.
"Bringing back DDT would be a disaster," said Hassan Ali, a department head at Kenya's International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology. "It's taken the US 30 years to recover from its widespread use."
Studies suggest DDT can seep into water and streams and remain in soil for up to 15 years. It has been detected in fish and birds, threatening the food chain.
DDT was developed into a pesticide during World War II by Swiss chemist Paul Hermann Mueller, who won a Nobel Prize for helping to save more than 500 million lives.
Whether DDT is harmful to humans is hotly debated, and there is no conclusive evidence on either side, experts say.
LOS ANGELES TIMES