AFM Observations on the 5th Conference of Parties of the Stockholm Convention

29 Apr 2023
Africa Fighting Malaria
Geneva, Switzerland - The final day of the COP5 focused on agreeing to and adopting decision points. Early on, the COP agreed on the listing of endosulfan in Annex A, much to the delight of almost all the delegations and NGOs. India was the only party that seemed to lose out on this decision as it still manufactures and uses endosulfan.

The DDT decision point came up before lunch and the draft decision language that was circulated by the Secretariat seemed uncontroversial and reflected the debate and discussions from the previous day. One potential sticking point was the role that UNEP and the WHO should play in the DDT Global Alliance and this was being debated among various parties. It was not until the EU started to circulate new draft language that the cat was set among the pigeons.

Motivated either by pressure from the ideological, anti-insecticide pressure groups or by the insecticide industry groups bent on eliminating DDT, or most likely both, the EU proposed that at the COP6, a timeline for elimination should be set. The previous day, Switzerland, most likely similarly motivated, proposed that a date of 2020 should be set. (The Secretariat has already been harshly criticized for going outside the bounds of the Convention and proposing this date.) These dates and timelines however were rejected by, among others, the WHO. The WHO is the lead technical agency on malaria and considers that there should be no timeline on DDT. The WHO, national malaria control programs, and most of the malaria community are interested in eliminating malaria before eliminating the tools to eliminate malaria.

Despite the fact that the Convention excludes a timeline and despite the fact that the malarial countries and the WHO oppose a timeline, the EU delegation was aggressively lobbying numerous delegations to accept its timeline language. Thankfully, the African group along with India held firm and rejected any timeline language. The EU's timeline demands are all the more offensive given the way in which they are proposing to reduce the funding for alternatives to DDT. In case anyone was under any illusions, the EU shows their protectionist, anti-development colors time and again. With friends like these, Africa certainly doesn't need enemies.

According to the IISD reporting of the final day, the final decision point (UNEP/POPS/COP.5/CRP.38) includes the COP5 inter alia:

• Takes note of the report by the DDT expert group on the assessment of the continued need for DDT for disease vector control;
• Concludes that countries relying on DDT for disease vector control may need to continue such use until locally appropriate and cost-effective alternatives are available for a sustainable transition away from DDT;
• Adopts the list of parties (set out in the annex) to be invited to nominate experts to serve as members of the DDT expert group;
• Requests the DDT expert group to undertake an in-depth assessment of the continued need for DDT;
• Invites UNEP to take over the administration and implementation of the Global Alliance, in collaboration with the WHO; and
• Requests the Secretariat to report on the status of this arrangement to COP6.

So, DDT has survived another COP and it remains available for malarial countries. The talk of timelines is out, but we are not out of the woods. First, we have to ensure that the Secretariat removes its illegal agenda to eliminate DDT by 2020. The COP has rejected this timeline and yet UNEP want to eliminate DDT anyway. We are down to one manufacturer of DDT and supplies are uncertain. The SADC countries that rely on DDT have decided to start manufacturing and though the political will along with the scientific evidence is on their side, there will be much to do to achieve this goal. 

Happily, South Africa was nominated to select a representative from the AFRO region to sit on the DDT Expert Group that will be re-constituted. We feel strongly that this individual should have a long and strong history in malaria control and in indoor residual spraying with DDT.

The Global Alliance on DDT will continue its work, led by both UNEP and WHO, though its funding remains uncertain. How useful this body will be in actually developing a true alternative to DDT remains to be seen. What is certain though is that it is made up of individuals and organizations that have a long and storied history in anti-DDT and anti-insecticides campaigns. Croplife International remains front and center in this group, but should they continue their association with the anti-insecticide activists, they may soon wake up to find their own products under attack. We need new public health insecticides to strengthen malaria control, but we aren't going to strengthen malaria control by campaigning against one of the best insecticides we have.

So, the COP is over for another 2 years. The COP President, Karel Blaha, did a good job of moving the discussion along and seemed to be respected by the Parties, even though he bears a disturbing resemblance to "Mr. Wint", the sinister assassin from Diamonds are Forever, the 1970s James Bond film. 

Over the next two years we can foresee the EU and other rich countries continuing to lobby to add chemicals to Annex A of the Convention. As with the chemicals added to date, none of them will be used or produced in the EU, and EU companies will have much more expensive, patented alternative chemicals waiting in the wings. Also over the next two years, the anti-DDT agenda will continue and we will hear more claims about harm to human health. We will be happy to take wagers that these claims will not amount to anything other than fear mongering. During this period the Ministers of Health that are tasked with malaria control and elimination will continue to use DDT and lives will continue to be saved by this remarkable insecticide.

Keep looking at the Stockholm Convention website for the final decision points and all the discussion and debate on POPs.

Day One, Day Two, Day Three and Day Four observations are available here.

To read AFM's report of the DDT discussion and decision at the COP5, click here.