DDT – safer alternatives available for malaria control says WWF

A variety of innovative mechanisms can control malaria and other diseases just as effectively as the notoriously dangerous pesticide DDT, according to a report released this week by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF). These alternatives would be less harmful to the environment and human health, and just as cheap, says the report.

Detailed case studies focused in six areas – Africa (Botswana and Western Africa), India, the Philippines, South America and Mexico – covered a variety of alternative techniques. These are pesticide-impregnated bednets (which reduce the need for indoor spraying); odor-baited cloth targets to attract and destroy disease-carrying insects; lower-risk pesticides used in rotation to avoid the development of resistance; and widespread elimination of mosquito breeding grounds and introduction of natural predators and sterile insects.

The results confirmed that 34 million people in West Africa were protected from river blindness and 700,000 Indians from malaria. There was a 50 percent reduction of malaria in certain Tanzanian villages, and a 50 percent reduction in malaria cases in the Philippines with 40 percent less expenditure.

“If DDT were the only tool to fight malaria, we would not even consider advocating its phase-out,” said Clifton Curtis, Director of WWF’s Global Toxics Initiative. “However, as these case studies show, people around the world are using innovative methods to fight tropical diseases that do not rely on a pesticide so dangerous it has been banned in most countries.”

WWF is pushing for a phase-out of DDT, helped by strong commitments from Western countries of financial and technical assistance to developing countries if they stop relying on DDT. “Helping the developing world achieve their goals of turning away from familiar but dangerous chemicals like DDT is the moral and ethical responsibility of the developed world,” said Dr. Richard Liroff, WWF’s Malaria Policy Expert. “WWF will be a strong voice in the global POPs treaty negotiations advocating such assistance.”

DDT has long been banned in most of the world. It can travel long distances in air and water, and builds up in the fatty tissues of living things. Studies associate it with disrupted hormone systems, and impaired nervous, immune and reproductive functions. In some wildlife species, exposure to DDT and its breakdown products has resulted in population instability or near-extinction.

However, due to its ease of use and relatively low cost, DDT is still widely used in developing countries to fight malaria.

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