DDT use should not be politicised

Carlos Odora | 02 Sep 2007
New Vision
EDITOR—On August 14, The New Vision reported that the people spraying houses in Munyonyo to control malaria were "resisted" as they attempted to conduct an indoor residual spraying programme.

This incident highlights the need for good information, education and communication in malaria control and also provides evidence of the damage that the highly politicised and damaging debate around the use of DDT has done for malaria control. Indoor residual spraying, (IRS), involves the careful application of small amounts of insecticide on the inside walls of houses. Depending on the type of insecticide used, the chemical will either kill, repel or irritate the female Anopheles mosquito. some insecticides such as DDT function in all three modes. The reason for conducting the IRS programme is to interrupt the transmission of malaria from human to human via the vector and to reduce the life-span of mosquitoes. Decades of evidence has shown that IRS is one of the most effective ways of controlling, and in some cases, eradicating the disease. This has been proved in our case recently in Kabale district where more than 95% of houses were sprayed and malaria prevalence rate in blood samples was found to have reduced from 30% to less than 4%. However, this benefit cannot be leveraged when good programmes are undermined by politicians like former Rubaga MP Ken Lukyamuzi who take advantage of less informed constituencies to broaden their political support. Lukyamuzi claims that DDT is dangerous and will be used by the Museveni Government to "murder people in broad daylight", that it will be sprayed on trees and contaminate crops. He goes on to claim that DDT causes liver cancer, blindness, brain damage and kidney failure and states that DDT will be mixed with benzene, ethanol, chloroform or petroleum. None of these statements have any basis in fact or reality; these are pure lies and fabrications. Unfortunately, these lies have consequences; one being that the residents of Munyonyo refused the spraymen access to their houses even when the chemical being sprayed was not DDT. Such action harms malaria control and can cost lives, particularly considering the fact that malaria accounts for deaths of children under the age of five than any other disease in Uganda.

Following some improved outreach and communication by Balton, the company carrying out the exercise in Munyonyo, residents were more reassured and subsequently did allow the spraymen to enter their houses.

However, this incident raises some important points. The death of a child from malaria is preventable and we have allowed the political ambitions of some people to get in the way for too long. Enough lives have been lost and it is time for Ugandans to say "enough is enough." Malaria control must be done properly and all Ugandans must give their public health officers the support they require.

Carlos Odora
Fellow Africa Fighting Malaria for East Africa Kampala