DDT still has an important role to play in saving
lives and reducing the burden of malaria in some of the world's
poorest countries, states the World Health Organisation (WHO) as the
international community considers phasing it out.
More than 120 governments, inter-governmental and
non-government agencies are meeting next week (December 4-9) in
Johannesburg, South Africa, to finalize an international treaty to
reduce and/or eliminate the production and use of 12 persistent
organic pollutants, including DDT.
WHO has been working in collaboration with the
United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) to provide treaty
negotiators with information on the health and environmental issues
associated with DDT as well as the current use of DDT in malaria
Although DDT has been banned from agricultural use
in most countries since the 1970s due to its damaging effects on the
environment, it continues to be used in limited quantities for public
health purposes. For many malaria-affected countries, responsible DDT
use is a vital strategy for preventing malaria transmission and
controlling epidemics. Countries continue to use DDT primarily because
they cannot afford reliable alternatives or do not have the capacity
to develop them.
In order to ensure that treaty restriction on DDT
will not result in an increase in malaria deaths, WHO and the Roll
Back Malaria partnership (RBM) are encouraging the negotiators to
support time-limited exemptions for the public health use of DDT. In
addition WHO is calling for new financial resources to aid in the
development of and orderly transition to cost-effective alternatives
to DDT for malaria vector control.
According to Dr David Heymann, WHO Executive
Director for Communicable Diseases: "Time limited exemptions are
critically important to the ultimate success of this treaty. Countries
that are currently using DDT for malaria vector control need the time
and the resources to identify and implement the alternatives that work
WHO emphasizes the importance of assuring that DDT
is used only for public health vector control and in accordance with
"WHO recommends that DDT should be used only
for indoor residual spraying and every step must be taken to prevent
DDT from being diverted to agricultural uses," says Dr Heymann.
"Projections suggest that the amounts of DDT needed for malaria
control are a very small fraction of what has been used in the past
for agricultural purposes."
WHO is working with malaria-affected countries and
other Roll Back Malaria partners to develop a systematic approach to
reducing reliance on DDT while assuring that people continue to be
protected from malaria.
WHO states that reducing reliance on DDT needs to
be part of an overall strategy of strengthening malaria control. There
is a need building robust capacity for malaria control at country
level that supports the development and utilization of a range of
methods to prevent malaria transmission that are cost-effective,
sustainable and rely less on chemicals in general.
In addition to the issue of exemptions, negotiators
in Johannesburg will be discussing the financial and technical
resources required to implement the treaty. According to Dr Heymann,
"The countries that rely on DDT are some of the poorest in the
world. Without additional resources they will be unable to make much
progress in reducing reliance on DDT. We hope that the treaty will
result in significant new funding in the coming years, in the meantime
we must look to all available sources."
With the assistance of the RBM partnership, Belize,
Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua and
Panama have already mobilized $750,000 for reducing reliance on DDT,
as part of a regional project supported by the Global Environment
Facility (GEF). The partnership is also seeking resources for similar
efforts across Africa and Asia.