DDT returns to battle malaria in Africa
Controlled indoor spraying of the infamous pesticide DDT is poised to make a comeback in countries that have tried and failed to do without it in the battle against malaria, according to a special news feature in the journal Nature Medicine.
Malaria is caused by a parasite known as Plasmodium, which is usually transmitted to humans through the bite of an infected mosquito.
Apoorva Mandavilli, senior news editor of the science journal, notes in the article that DDT—short for dichlorodiphenyl-trichloro ethane—is known to be very effective against malaria and helped rid the United States of the disease in the late 1940s.
In the 1950s and 1960s, the Global Malaria Eradication Campaign relied heavily on DDT to control malaria globally. It was used not only in the US but also in Europe, India, Africa and South America, where it dramatically cut malaria rates and saved millions of lives.
Beginning in the 1970s however, the US and several European countries banned DDT, fearing it may harm the environment and get into the food chain, leading perhaps to illness. African governments were also pressured to abandon DDT for malaria control and most did.
Today, malaria kills as many as 1 million people each year, about 90 percent of them in sub-Saharan Africa. “Someone dies of malaria every 30 seconds - and most of those are pregnant women and children under the age of five,” Mandavilli notes.
On May 2, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), endorsed indoor spraying of DDT to rid homes of malaria-carrying mosquitoes. “The World Health Organization is set to follow,” Mandavilli reports.
“In its new guidelines, a final version of which is expected to be released later this summer, the WHO is unequivocal in its recommendation of DDT for indoor residual spraying,” Mandavilli further reports.
Evidence suggests that controlled spraying a small amount of DDT on the inside walls and eaves of houses where mosquitoes rest—as opposed to aerial spraying on crops and villages as was done in the past—can have a big impact in the fight against malaria with a low risk of harmful effects on the environment and on human health.
SOURCE: Nature Medicine, August 2006.
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