Malaria and rethink on DDT open up Africa for a PSU

Sonu Jain | 06 Jul 2007
The Indian Express

Not only is India seen as a success story using DDT to control malaria deaths — its use as a fertilizer was banned in 1972 — it's today the largest producer of DDT and the second-largest exporter after China. This year, Hindustan Insecticide Limited (HIL), the sole manufacturer of DDT, bagged an order for 900 tonnes of DDT from Mozambique and Eritrea — and is looking at tapping other markets as well.

DDT's comeback, incidentally, coincides with Rachel Carson's 100th birth anniversary. Carson's book Silent Spring had first exposed the harmful effects of DDT residue in the environment — damage to crops and livestock, including the death of the bald eagle in the US — that led to a phase-out of the chemical.

Although the West by then had won its battle against malaria, the ban on DDT coincided with the disease raging across African countries, killing 1 million Africans annually. Waging a losing battle, the World Health Organization last year mandated the use of DDT once again in malaria-eradication programmes.

That, by itself, did not help — much of Africa did not have the money to buy it at $4-6 a tonne — but things changed when the Bush administration and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation decided to allow their aid money to be used to buy DDT doubling funds available since 2003.

The obvious place to look for supplies was India with its largest manufacturing facility of 15,000 tonnes. The first tender was bagged by HIL in 2006 for 440 tonnes when some African countries were able to get exemption under the Stockholm Convention.

"DDT is being used by the world as there is no other insecticide which is effective and used so successfully to eradicate malaria," said K Hari Kumar, chairman and managing director of HIL. "We have made profits. The numbers are small but the demand will only grow in the next few years."