EU’s “precaution” on DDT threatens lives of millions of Africans, says health charity
IPN Press release
London and Kampala, Uganda: Tuesday 25 April is Africa Malaria Day, a day to remember the million or more Africans who die every year from malaria. But it is also a day to consider practical, cheap and effective ways to reduce that death toll – and barriers to the implementation of such life-saving interventions.
Approximately 3,000 lives are lost to malaria every day. Most of these deaths could be prevented.
The most cost-effective way to reduce the incidence of malaria is through indoor residual spraying (IRS) with small amounts of the insecticide DDT; this has been shown to kill and repel malarial mosquitoes, reducing malaria rates by 50 to 80 per cent. There is now widespread agreement by scientists, public health authorities, and international health agencies that IRS programmes using DDT should be the primary tool for malaria prevention.
Already IRS using DDT is saving hundreds of thousands of lives. But more can – and should – be done. Governments across Africa recognise this and want to use DDT in IRS. However, the European Union is seeking to discourage the practice – threatening the lives and livelihoods of millions of people across the continent.
The EU has created confusion in Uganda by issuing statements claiming that DDT harms human health. Such claims are not supported by scientific evidence accumulated over decades. Richard Tren of South African health charity Africa Fighting Malaria points out, “When DDT is used in IRS, it saves lives and prevents disease, improving human wellbeing. It poses no threat to human beings at the levels at which it is used in IRS.”
“If the European bureaucrats opposed to the use of DDT have their way, they will effectively condemn tens of thousands of Ugandan children to death,” said Tren.
In addition, EU representatives – pandering to European pressure groups who claim that DDT will leak into agricultural systems – have issued vague threats, suggesting that if Uganda uses DDT to control malaria, the EU will impose trade sanctions against the country’s agricultural exports – including flowers and cotton, which are not even eaten by people.
Tren denounced the idea of trade sanctions against Uganda, saying “This latent trade protectionism, allegedly justified by the precautionary principle, is both absurd and morally offensive. Its only beneficiaries would be vested economic interests such as European farmers and chemical companies.”
IRS programs use small applications of chemical insecticides on the inside walls of peoples’ homes to kill malarial mosquitoes on contact. DDT has the added benefit of a repellent effect on mosquitoes, keeping them away from homes and killing those that do come into contact. The tiny amounts applied to homes twice a year ensure that the chemical does not escape into the environment in large quantities, yet is enough to have a dramatic effect on transmission rates of the disease.
South Africa reintroduced DDT in 2000 after an unprecedented epidemic and reported a 75% drop in malaria cases in a single year in KwaZulu-Natal, the hardest hit area. In the same year, the Konkola Copper Mine operating privately in Zambia deployed DDT to protect its workers from malaria, successfully halving reported cases of the disease in the first year and then halving them again the following year.
The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB and Malaria has recognized DDT’s role in controlling malaria and financed the chemical for public health use in several African countries, such as Swaziland and South Africa. Following the announcement of the President’s Malaria Initiative in June 2005, USAID recently reformed its malaria control financing to focus on commodities and include IRS in Angola and Tanzania. It also promised to explore the possibility of financing IRS with DDT.
The WHO recommends and supports the DDT as one of several possible insecticides that can be used in IRS programs. In Southern Africa, WHO AFRO has assisted, advised and supported several countries to expand their IRS programs and to use DDT. The Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants specifically gives DDT an exemption for use in public health programs.
The EU alone continues to actively block the purchase of the chemical, citing concerns that it will leak into agricultural programs and end up in food. However, in a US Congressional testimony last year, Richard Tren of Africa Fighting Malaria established a commercial motive for the EU restrictions on the use of DDT in Africa, citing a communication from Gerhard Hesse, Business Manager of Vector Control for Bayer CropScience, a private company that develops alternative insecticides to DDT. The Financial Times confirmed that Mr. Hesse indicated in an email he “fully supports EU to ban [sic] imports of agricultural products from countries using DDT,” as the chemical amounts to a competitive threat to the company.
For these reasons, Uganda’s Ministry of Health decided to use DDT. According to the Ministry of Health, 70,000-110,000 children die every year from malaria in Uganda.