Malaria has returned to parts of Africa with a vengeance, so much so that the mounting death toll it spawns is considered more of a threat to society than the redeployment of DDT, the world’s most infamous pesticide, to fight it. The World Health Organization (WHO) has just reversed its 30-year restriction on DDT and backed limited spraying to control the mosquito population. DDT has few detrimental effects on humans. However, its widespread use in agriculture after World War II harmed the atmosphere, causing bird populations to decline and their eggshells to become structurally weaker.
Dr. John M. Balbus analyzes health risks for the US–based action center Environmental Defense. He discussed with VOA English to Africa reporter Howard Lesser how important the targeted reinstatement of DDT in several African nations can be for saving lives, even though its resurgence is opposed by some environmental groups in the United States (US).
“It’s an ongoing humanitarian tragedy that DDT does have a role right now in trying to roll back. It’s not going to be the permanent solution, but there’s obviously a loss of control of the disease, and so it’s very important that a proper balance be struck,” he said.
In Africa, Zambia, Angola, Uganda, and Tanzania have continued to utilize DDT effectively against malaria. Dr. Balbus notes that infrequent applications of the pesticide inside susceptible households can be both life-saving and cost effective. This can be accomplished, he explains, by “just spraying the walls [of peoples’ huts]. And one of the things about DDT is that it doesn’t just kill the mosquitoes, but it also repels them for about six months, and it’s the repellent properties that are very valuable.”
Dr. Balbus discussed the potential consequences of reversing a 30-year hiatus in DDT use.
“The critical thing for this reversal, to the extent that it is a reversal, is that there are controls put in place to avoid agricultural uses. The whole point of the ban in the United States was to stop widespread agricultural application, which results in buildup of DDT throughout the environment and produces the results that we saw in this country. So long as the controls are in place, and it’s obviously difficult to do this in many parts of this world, it’s unlikely that we’ll see the widespread environmental effects,” he said.
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