No scientific proof that DDT is dangerous

Philip Coticelli | 20 Sep 2006
East African Standard

After years of suppression, Tanzania's Ministry of Health is finally bringing DDT back for malaria control. It has concluded that indoor residual spraying (IRS) of DDT is not only safe for humans and the environment, but essential to the fight against malaria. An Environmental Impact Assessment prepared by the Ugandan Ministry of Health last month concluded the same.

Uganda now awaits clearance from the National Environmental Management Authority, which has fought against the reintroduction of DDT and called for a public hearing on the chemical.

The Kenyan government similarly plans to review the chemical's potential for use in malaria control later this year. Both are welcome, as they will inevitably reveal to the people of East Africa DDT's true value as a life-saver.

In over 60 years of use, no peer reviewed scientific publication has ever been able to prove that DDT causes cancer, birth defects, neurodegenerative disease or any other harm to human beings.

Claims about DDT's effect on bird species and the environment are also dubious. Yet in that time DDT has undisputedly saved tens of millions of lives.

Many groups in Kenya lobbying against the use of DDT have profits and not public health in mind.

The European Union told countries in East Africa to expect trade sanctions if they reintroduced DDT, assuming that the chemical would be poorly regulated and sprayed on foods and flowers traded with the EU. Yet Mozambique and Zambia - much poorer than Kenya in terms of Gross Domestic Product - along with South Africa have maintained IRS programmes with DDT for several years.

These countries have not suffered catastrophic human or environmental harm, nor trade sanctions from the EU. They have, however, suffered much less from malaria.

Other businesses in Kenya are concerned less about trading food and flowers than selling their own insecticides.

Business interests should have no part in deciding which public health insecticide can or should be used to control malaria. That decision should be left to scientists and public health experts, based solely on public health risks and benefits.

Many who argue against DDT overlook the advantages it has over other insecticides. DDT is cheaper and lasts longer than most other insecticides, which means that it only has to be sprayed once or twice a year, versus more frequent spraying with natural insecticides such as pyrethrum.

Philip Coticelli
Africa Fighting Malaria,
Washington DC