Africa Fighting Malaria Media Advisory
Embargoed until 00:01am (EST) Wednesday 28 September 2005
German commercial interests kill African children: opposition to DDT increases malaria in Uganda
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‘We fully support EU to ban imports of agricultural products coming from countries using DDT’ proudly claims Gerhard Hesse, of Bayer Crop Sciences, a division of Bayer AG, the giant German agrochemical and pharmaceutical company. Admitting that ‘DDT use is for us a commercial threat….it is mainly a public image threat,’ Dr. Hesse, business manager of vector control, then expounded a series of half-truths and downright falsehoods, mostly denigrating the use of DDT, in an email exchange with malaria scientists.
Several developing countries with a high burden of disease and death from malaria use DDT to control the mosquitoes which carry the parasite. DDT is sprayed in tiny amounts on walls inside dwellings in carefully controlled programs which save countless thousands of lives, mainly children, every year. ‘It’s utterly disgraceful for a powerful company like Bayer not only to put commercial interests above human life, but also to lie in the process’ says Richard Tren, South African Director of Africa Fighting Malaria, a health advocacy group. Tren testifies on DDT to the US Senate Environment and Public Works Committee (EPW) hearing today.
Bayer Crop Sciences reported sales of over US$7bn in 2004 and Bayer’s Dr. Hesse sits on the board of the World Health Organization's Roll Back Malaria (RBM) coalition as do other commercial contractors to USAID. Roll Back Malaria was launched in 1998 with a mission to halve malaria rates by 2010. For various reasons, WHO and USAID favor insecticide-treated bednets (ITNs) as an alternative to indoor residual spraying with DDT or other insecticides. But to date ITNs have failed to demonstrate the effectiveness in reducing malaria cases and deaths as indoor spraying with DDT.
After running for seven years, WHO's Roll Back Malaria program has overseen an increase in malaria rates of probably 15%. RBM is widely seen as a total failure; the British Medical Journal characterized it as “a failing public health program” and The Lancet recently concluded that RBM had not only “failed in its aims, but it may also have caused harm.”
Meanwhile, countries that are less reliant on external funding have abandoned the WHO policy on malaria which caused a sharp increase in rates and have gone back to using DDT to regain control. Richard Tren says that for years we have been hearing stories of commercial pressure (including bribes) being applied to African healthcare officials and staff to use alternatives to DDT, but until now we have never had one admit its commercial interests oppose the use of DDT. ‘Those countries with sufficient domestic healthcare budgets, such as South Africa and some malarial countries in the Americas have been able to bypass the AID industrial complex and have bought DDT. In addition, some countries, such as Zambia have been able to use private sector funding and the Global Fund for AIDS, TB and Malaria to buy DDT. In all these cases, once DDT has been used, malaria cases have plummeted. Unfortunately, many other countries that are more reliant on bilateral donor agencies have been told what to buy and from whom to buy it, and their malaria rates are not measured,’ he concludes.
Uganda decided to adopt the policy based on the successful use of DDT in the past in that country and the current successful application of DDT in other African countries, such as South Africa and Zambia. However the Ugandan government was checked in February and again in April, by strongly worded warnings from European Union officials threatening to ban the import of all agricultural produce on the grounds that it will be contaminated with DDT. The EU seems to agree with Dr Hesse, who doubts the ability of developing countries to prevent the 'loss' (as he delicately puts it) of DDT that has been allocated to public health programs to agriculture.
'This is blatant protectionism and agro-chemical commercial interests disguised as a concern for European health’ concludes Tren who speaks next week to audiences in London and Brussels on this odious practice. ‘Presumably given Hesse’s remarks they hope to get all of Southern Africa food exports suspended too, since we use DDT’ says a concerned Tren.
Uganda has one of the highest malaria rates in the world, where at least 93% of the population lives at risk from malaria. Until now, Uganda has bowed to outside pressure but Ugandan Health Minister, Jim Muhwezi is determined to use DDT. Speaking at a World Malaria Day commemoration in April 2005, Muhwezi noted that “DDT has been proven, over and over again, to be the most effective and least expensive method of fighting malaria."
Britain’s leading malaria specialist, Professor Chris Curtis of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine says of the threatened EU ban: ‘We are now informed that the ban is supported by a multi-national insecticide manufacturer. Such a ban would presumably be in the interests of the manufacturer who could expect increased sales of its insecticides. However, it would not be in the interests of Uganda or its donors who wish to protect as many people as possible from malaria with the limited funding available for vector control.’
Dr. Roger Bate, a US Director of AFM and a fellow of the American Enterprise Institute, has investigated the role of USAID and other RBM partners in malaria control. His research paper, The Blind Hydra[i], led to a US Senate sub-committee hearing into USAID’s practices in July 2005. ‘As part of the AID industrial complex, USAID is shown to be lacking in transparency and accountability and has demonstrated no positive effect from the $400million allocated to malaria control in recent years. Since 75% of the funds stay in US, and fewer than 10% of funds are allocated to commodity purchases, it is not surprising they have little impact on disease,’ he says.
Dr. Hesse implies that DDT would fail modern toxicity data requirements. This is patently not true since DDT is one of the most tested compounds of all time, (its human toxicological effects are on a par with orange juice and less than coffee) and has been used safely for 60 years. The original patent holder, the Swiss company Geigy, nobly gave up the very valuable patent during the Second World War, when refugees and survivors from Nazi concentration camps were doused in DDT to save them from typhus and other insect-borne diseases. By the 1970s malaria and other diseases had been eradicated from Europe and America by DDT use, and the US National Academy of Sciences claimed that DDT had saved many millions of lives.
DDT is no longer produced by western companies, and the only sources are the governments of India and China. It is sold at low cost and only for disease control. DDT still can save lives today, but instead of helping African nations, European interests are preventing its deployment. What is most worrying about this issue is that Dr Hesse’s opposition to DDT isn’t just his personal view: It is ‘our companies [sic] point of view. I know that all of my colleagues from other primary manufacturers and internationally operating companies are sharing my view’, he says.
Leading US medical entomologist, Professor Don Roberts, who is also giving testimony to the EPW committee today, considers in his personal opinion that “DDT is needed to protect the health and lives of the world’s poorest people in malarious countries.” Roberts, who is Professor of Tropical Public Health at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, elaborated to say “there is overwhelming evidence that malarious countries are being pressed by rich countries not to use DDT. It is a chilling thought that rich and powerful countries are willing to trade the lives of poor rural people for reasons that have no basis in science.”
Richard Tren, AFM - South Africa +27 82 921 1081 – email@example.com
Roger Bate, AFM and AEI – US +1 202 431 5635 firstname.lastname@example.org
About Africa Fighting Malaria www.fightingmalaria.org
AFM is a non-profit health advocacy group based in South Africa and the US. AFM supports the use of insecticides for vector control; DDT is the most cost effective, a key factor for Africa, but other insecticides are more appropriate for more modern dwellings. AFM does not oppose the use of bed nets; they certainly save lives, however they suffer from compliance problems, they are expensive, and should not be considered as a replacement for other interventions, but should compliment them.
Disclosure: AFM does not receive funding from the chemical industry or any Government producing DDT.
Bayer Crop Science– http://www.bayer.com/subgroups/bayer-cropscience/page1311.htm
See Corporate Watch’s report on Bayer - http://www.corporatewatch.org.uk/?lid=317
[i] Roger Bate & Benjamin Schwab ‘The Blind Hydra’ American Enterprise Institute, 24 May 2005. http://www.aei.org/publications/pubID.22355/pub_detail.asp