Earlier this year, the European Union's charge d'affairs for Uganda threatened that country over its intention to resume using DDT to control the continuing malaria epidemic that kills up to 100,000 Ugandans every year--half of them children. He warned that if Uganda used DDT to save lives, the EU would ban the import of any flowers, food, or other agricultural products grown in the sub-Saharan country.
Now German chemical giant Bayer Crop Sciences, a leading manufacturer of insecticides more expensive and less effective than DDT, has issued a statement proclaiming its support for the EU position. Senior Bayer management is seeking to deny Ugandans the use of DDT.
Ugandans consider the eradication of malaria to be of immense importance. "The Ugandan government has indicated it may soon begin spraying of DDT in people's homes to reduce the infection rate of malaria which now kills an estimated 70,000 people, mainly children under five, a year," reported the February 2 issue of EU Business. In mosquito-control efforts such as these, small amounts of DDT are sprayed on the inside walls of dwellings in carefully controlled programs.
Bayer Blasted in Senate
"DDT helped eradicate malaria from Europe and the United States in the 1950s, and was used to eradicate malaria in many other countries," Richard Tren, South African director of Africa Fighting Malaria, told the U.S. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee on September 28.
Explained Tren in written remarks submitted to the committee, "DDT is safe for human use, and there has never been a peer-reviewed replicated study showing any human harm from the chemical, even though billions have been exposed to it (hundreds of millions in moderate to high doses).
"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," Tren said. "We fear that commercial entities such as Bayer ... are using bad science and fear about DDT in order to advance their own particular interests.
"Ultimately it is poor children in Africa that pay for these policy failures, based on abused science," added Tren. "We urge the U.S. government to insist that years of scaremongering and bad science be reversed and to take a strong stance against the EU and Bayer Crop Sciences."
Bayer Fears Sales Loss
Bayer sees things differently. "We fully support [the EU's decision] to ban imports of agricultural products coming from countries using DDT," Bayer vector control manager Gerhard Hesse said in an email exchange with malaria scientists. He admitted "DDT use is for us a commercial threat."
Bayer Crop Sciences reported sales of more than $7 billion in 2004. In a potential conflict of interest, Hesse sits on the board of the World Health Organization's Roll Back Malaria (RBM) coalition. The group has overseen an increase in disease and death rates from malaria, due in part to policies that shun DDT. RBM has been characterized as "a failing public health program" by the British Medical Journal.
Uganda Fighting Back
Until now, Uganda has bowed to outside pressure, but Health Minister Jim Muhwezi is determined to use DDT. Speaking at a World Malaria Day commemoration in April 2005, Muhwezi noted, "DDT has been proven, over and over again, to be the most effective and least expensive method of fighting malaria."
Many countries with a high incidence of malaria rely on international aid to fund their malaria-control programs and thus are forced to adopt policies that aid agencies and the European Union prefer.
Don Roberts, professor of Tropical Public Health at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences in Bethesda, Maryland, noted "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."
"The aggressive European opposition to DDT use in Africa is a disaster," said Sterling Burnett, senior fellow at the National Center for Policy Analysis. "For all the time they spend talking about assisting Africa, European governments do far more harm than good.
"As Ugandan Health Minister Muhwezi points out, the best thing Europe can do for Africa is stop arm-twisting them into foregoing the use of DDT," said Burnett. "Do Europeans care about African lives? If they do, they must turn their backs on the politically correct rhetoric of environmental activist groups and allow DDT to start saving lives. European Greens are killing innocent Africans."