Activist Speaks Out Against Spraying DDT for Malaria
(Beyond Pesticides, June 14, 2006) The following piece, “Prevention Rivals the Disease for Health Risk,” was as a letter to the editor by Jamidu Katima in response to the May 29, 2006 Los Angeles Times article "Malaria's Toll Fuels the Case for DDT Use in Africa.” Mr. Katima is co-chair of the International Persistent Organic Pollutants Elimination Network.
Malaria is a devastating health problem in Africa that is finally getting the international attention it deserves. Unfortunately, some want to bring back widespread use of DDT for malaria control -- a "silver bullet" approach that saved lives in the 1950s and '60s but stopped working as mosquitoes became resistant to the pesticide.
Like most Africans, I do not want a toxic chemical known to cause cancer and low birth weights sprayed on my walls and contaminating the home where my children play. Those promoting DDT are putting current and future generations of Africans at risk.
There are better ways to control malaria without risking our health.
The new U.S. promotion of DDT for malaria control directly undermines the Stockholm Convention, a global treaty with 123 participating countries, which allows short-term use of DDT in countries where it is needed but calls for its eventual elimination.
Dar es Salaam, Tanzania
Beyond Pesticides believes that is a tragedy that market forces and political expediency may cause some poor nations to choose between malaria and exposure to DDT. Environmentalists point out that the prevalence of the disease continues even with the use of DDT, and call on the U.N. and other governmental bodies to research and develop an integrated pest management approach to mosquito control to combat malaria.
DDT was banned in the United States in 1972 because of its devastating effects on fish and wildlife. The Environmental Protection Agency has determined that DDT, and its metabolites DDE and DDD, are probable human carcinogens. Studies have shown that DDT takes more than 15 years to breakdown in soil. The fact that DDT bioaccumulates in fatty tissue is particularly important in poorer countries where a large part of the diet is made up of fish and other game that may be contaminated with the pesticide.
Without question, malaria ranks at the top of the list of public health crises around the world. Mosquitoes are responsible for transmitting the disease to an estimated 300 million people a year, killing 2.5 million.
For other authors making the case against DDT, see the 2006 article in The Nation - "Don't blame environmentalists for malaria" and the 2005 Washington Post article - "If malaria's the problem, DDT's not the only answer"