Monday, August 07, 2006

[Tanzania] Now says it will use DDT against malaria

from The East African

Special Correspondent

Tanzania has restored the use of the controversial DDT in the control of malaria.

The Minister for Health and Social Welfare, Prof David Mwakyusa said in parliament last week that the once banned chemical would be cleared for use only for indoor residual spraying to control malaria.

"The implementation of this measure will be in phases starting with areas where the malaria epidemic is prevalent," said the minister.

The use of DDT to control mosquito breeding grounds is banned in the country.

Prof Mwakyusa was presenting the 2006/07 budget estimates for his ministry last week. However, he did not give details of how DDT would be applied.

The debate on the re-introduction of DDT in the country has been going on for some time now. One side advocates the re-introduction of the insecticide, saying that banning it was more harmful than putting it into use in the control of malaria.

However, the other camp claims that doing so would be tantamount to granting a licence for environmental destruction.

The debate has also been going on in East Africa on whether or not the three countries should re-introduce DDT, as a powerful alternative pesticide to combat the deadly disease.

The use of DDT was banned in many countries across the world in the 1960s, because of its hazardous environmental and health implications.

However, this was after it had registered widespread success in combating malaria in the developed world.

Tanzania, Kenya and Uganda want to use DDT as a final resort in the fight against the disease, which kills millions of Africans yearly, many of whom children.

But the three countries have been wary of the consequences of DDT use for their international trade, and do not seem to be in any hurry to start using it.

East Africa’s major trading partner – the European Union – has expressed concern over contamination of the region’s exports, due to the lack of capacity to strictly monitor the use of the pesticide on vector control.

"There is no ban on DDT for vector control; rather, countries are to do their best to gradually phase it out and can apply (and receive) exemptions," an official of the United Nations Environment Programme Information Unit for Conventions (Unep/IUC) told The EastAfrican recently.

At a recent conference of the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants, held in Geneva, it was agreed that governments should adopt a reporting system under which countries in need of using DDT for vector control can report on current uses and on future needs."

Unep and many governments and non-governmental organisations agree with the approach taken under the convention to permit the continued use of DDT for vector control as needed, while accepting the goal of its eventual elimination.

While DDT is targeted for elimination, the convention recognises that a number of countries will need to continue using it "for some years, in order to protect health of their citizens."

Subsequent to DDT elimination, financial and technical support for adopting alternatives such as bed nets, integrated pest management and other chemicals will become mandatory.

Even with this recognition, the East African states have been cautious. In May, Prof Mwakyusa said the government was considering the use of the banned pesticide in combating malaria.

Kenya was also reported to have said that it would convene an experts’ meeting in December to discuss benefits and risks of using DDT to combat malaria, which claims 34,000 lives yearly, and which accounts for 20 per cent of all hospital admissions.

However, key players in the horticultural sector in Kenya and Tanzania see DDT use as a serious threat to flower exports. Both have been encouraging their respective governments to think of an "alternative method."

Uganda is also said to be planning to use the pesticide, although it has received a warning from the European Union over fears of contamination of produce exported to the EU.

US government officials are endorsing and funding the use of DDT in sub-Saharan Africa after years of resisting calls from scientists who said the insecticide would be the best weapon for fighting malaria.

Of the $99 million that USAid is spending on malaria control this year, $20 million is being used for indoor spraying with DDT or one of the other 11 insecticides authorised by the World Health Organisation as malaria preventives.

Additional reporting by Wilfred Edwin

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