Big Tobacco Opposes WHO and Malaria Control in Uganda

22 Sep 2006
Africa Fighting Malaria

AFRICA FIGHTING MALARIA

PRESS RELEASE 22 SEPTEMBER 2006

Big Tobacco Opposes WHO and Malaria Control in Uganda

British American Tobacco plc (BAT) has emerged as a front runner in a corporate coalition opposing the highly effective public health insecticide, DDT, in Uganda. DDT has been endorsed and supported for malaria control by the World Health Organization and is being used for malaria control by many governments and several donors, such as USAID and the Global Fund for AIDS, TB and Malaria. Yet BAT opposes DDT, claiming erroneously that its use in malaria control would harm exports. This unseemly episode sees big business pitted against vulnerable Ugandan citizens, notably young children and pregnant mothers at risk from malaria.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), there are over 12 million cases of malaria every year in Uganda, even though the disease is preventable and entirely curable. One of the best ways of controlling malaria is to spray tiny amounts of insecticides, such as DDT and others, on the inside walls of houses. This method of control, known as indoor residual spraying (IRS) is safe for humans and the environment which is why it has received such a strong endorsement from the WHO.

The opposition to using DDT stems from fears that some DDT will be diverted and used in agriculture, which in turn will result in agricultural produce being rejected from the European Union. However, many countries, such as Mozambique, Zambia, Madagascar and South Africa have been using DDT very successfully in malaria control for decades and have never had products rejected from the EU because of DDT contamination. In a letter to US Senator Tom Coburn, EU President Jose Manuel Barroso, stated explicitly: "It should be noted that there have been no findings of DDT contamination in food imports of Ugandan origin and consequently no disruption in trade. This mirrors the experience with other African exporters of food and food products to the EU."

The opposition to DDT from BAT mirrors opposition to DDT in 2005 from chemical company Bayer Crop Sciences which admitted that DDT was a commercial threat to their operations.

For several years, encouraged by the successful use of DDT in other African countries, the Ugandan government has been attempting to introduce DDT to save lives and prevent disease. Yet almost at every turn, big business and ill-informed environmentalists have stymied their attempts.

Richard Tren, director of Africa Fighting Malaria (AFM) considers that this latest move by BAT "is both hypocritical and callous. It is unbelievable that a company like BAT, which sells products known to cause cancer, would oppose DDT, which has been shown not to cause cancer in humans. Not only that, decades of evidence have proved it can save millions of lives. That BAT would oppose DDT in this way is not only foolish, it is deadly and represents a truly shameful episode in the company's history."

With revenues of over £10billion (US $18bn) BAT's operating profit for 2005 was over £2,6 billion (US $4.7bn) and it earned a profit of over £400million (US $780m) in Africa alone. BAT claims to stand by the United Nations Global Compact's guiding principles on human rights, which states that businesses should:

  • Support and protect the protection of internationally proclaimed human rights within their sphere of influence and
  • Make sure they are not complicit in human rights abuses.

"Clearly," says Richard Tren, "BAT is simply paying lip service here. BAT is violating the WHO's recommendations, opposing good public health policy and ignoring the UNEP's Stockholm Convention which grants DDT an exemption for use in malaria control. BAT is relying on inaccurate science and manipulating politics to advance its own agenda, the result is that the lives of many of the most vulnerable Ugandans are in danger."

This view is confirmed by public health expert Professor Amir Attaran, who considers that DDT for malaria control is "not something that an intelligent or ethical company would deign to obstruct"

Africa Fighting Malaria has written to BAT to request that it act constructively and support the Government of Uganda, the WHO and USAID to ensure that the IRS program can be run effectively and safely. , AFM points out that environmentalist groups like Sierra Club and the Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT) support the use of DDT. EWT has worked with malaria control programs in Southern Africa to ensure that DDT is used well and that no leakages occur. Instead of simply opposing DDT, AFM has suggested that BAT should use its expertise to help save lives, instead of stalling the fight against malaria.

CONTACT DETAILS

Richard Tren: Washington DC - +1 202 420 1837; rtren@fightingmalaria.org

South African cell - 082 921 1081

See AFM's Media Release on Bayer Crop Sciences here