Tanzania finally starts using DDT to fight malaria

Wilfred Edwin | 14 Jul 2008
The East African
Tanzania has started using Dichloro-diphenyl-trichloroethane (DDT) for Indoor Residual Spraying (IRS) from July this year.

It will be the first East African country to start using the insecticide which is credited with eliminating malaria in the Western world decades ago before it was outlawed in many countries in 1972. Critics said it was harmful for the environment and humans.

The Deputy Minister for Health and Social Welfare Aisha Kigoda said last week that in the first phase, the DDT will be sprayed in districts facing acute malaria threat.

Dr Kigoda said spraying of the insecticide will be supervised by the National Environment Management Council (NEMC) and the Vice President's Office (Environmental management) to ensure there is no environmental damage.

"NEMC and the Vice President's office will issue procedures for DDT use and analyse its environmental effects before we can start using it, according to Environmental Act of 2004," she said.

The minister said that before the use of the insecticide, there would be a campaign to educate the public on its use.

Tanzania's decision comes as Kenya and Uganda are reluctant to use the insecticide as a final tool to drive off the disease.

The two countries are wary of the consequences DDT use on international trade, ostensibly due to the sensitivity of their major trading partner — the European Union.

Experts say that DDT, if used correctly, poses no known risk to human health.

Malaria is a preventable disease that causes more than 1 million deaths in infants and children under age 5 in sub-Saharan Africa — one approximately every 30 seconds.

"There is no ban on DDT for vector control, rather, countries are to do their best to gradually phase it out and can apply (and receive) exemptions," said an official of the United Nations Environment Programme's Information Unit for Conventions (UNEP/IUC) recently.

Recently, it was agreed at a meeting of the "Conference of the Parties to the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants held in Geneva that governments should adopt a reporting system under which "countries in need of using DDT for vector control can report on current uses and on future needs.

Subsequent to DDT elimination, a provision of financial and technical support for adopting alternatives such as bed nets, integrated pest management and other chemicals will be mandatory.

But key players in the horticulture sector in Kenya and Tanzania see DDT as a serious threat to flower exports. Both want their respective governments to think of an "alternative method."

Recent reports indicate that US officials are endorsing and funding the use of DDT in sub-Saharan Africa after years of resisting calls from scientists who said the insecticide would be the best weapon for fighting malaria, despite objections by some environmentalists.