Serious consequences for poor countries could flow from attempts by environmental groups to ban DDT, argue Richard Tren and Roger Bate in a new study published by the IEA on Tuesday 22nd May. 'Malaria is a human tragedy,' observes Dr Bate. 'The disease kills up to 3 million people every year, and makes up to 500 million people sick. As DDT is one of the cheapest and most effective options available to poor countries, they should not be discouraged from using DDT spray programmes aimed at preventing malaria.'
Yet this week, delegates from around the world will meet in Stockholm to sign onto the Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs), a legally binding, international treaty that will ban or greatly restrict worldwide the use of 12 chemicals. A network of international environmental lobbying groups worked with the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) to design the treaty, seeking a ban on chemicals such as DDT.
'Luckily, international environmental lobbying groups were unsuccessful in their attempt to ban DDT completely. Its exemption from the POPs treaty comes to the great relief of public health doctors in poor countries and humanitarians everywhere,' says Dr Bate.
Malaria and the DDT Story examines the history of malaria, the development of medical and chemical technologies to treat and prevent it, and the history of successful vector control programmes worldwide in the 1940s and 1950s. The study shows that after malaria was eradicated in wealthy countries and DDT was banned, poor countries were pressured by health and donor agencies and environmental groups to discontinue their use of DDT spraying programmes based on fears that usage of the chemical would harm the environment and adversely affect human health.
But these fears are unsubstantiated, according to Bate. 'The environmental impacts of DDT use in disease control are negligible, and no scientific peer-reviewed study has ever replicated any case of negative human health impacts from DDT,' he says. Political pressures based on these fears have helped to bring about a resurgence of malaria in the world. 'Malaria was almost eradicated in many countries because of DDT usage, but re-emerged when DDT spray programmes were eliminated,' he added.
While the POPs treaty allows signatory countries a DDT exemption for vector control, UNEP will demand reporting requirements that may hinder effective use of the chemical.
'Unfortunately, poor countries are still being pressured by international environmental groups and donor agencies to discontinue DDT usage in their public health programmes. Negative perceptions from wealthy countries frustrate the use of DDT in disease control, adding to the millions of people who suffer and die from the disease every year,' says Bate. 'Even though DDT is not banned outright by the POPs Convention, the battle to combat malaria is far from over,' he concludes.