UN agencies launch DDT-free anti-malaria initiative

6 May 2009
Mosquito nets, if properly used and maintained, can provide a physical barrier to hungry mosquitoes

The United Nations today announced a renewed round of international efforts to combat malaria with a reduced reliance on the controversial synthetic pesticide Dichloro-Diphenyl-Trichloroethane (DDT).

A number of projects, involving some 40 countries in Africa, the Eastern Mediterranean and Central Asia, are set to test non-chemical methods of eradicating the deadly disease, ranging from eliminating potential mosquito breeding sites and securing homes with mesh screens to deploying mosquito-repellent trees and fish that eat mosquito larvae.

The new projects follow a successful five-year pilot programme using alternatives to DDT in Mexico and Central America, where pesticide-free techniques and management procedures have helped cut cases of malaria by over 60 per cent.

The UN Environment Programme (UNEP) and the World Health Organization (WHO) are spearheading the ten new projects, with close to $40 million in funding from the Global Environment Facility (GEF).

The agencies aim to cut DDT use by 30 per cent worldwide by 2014 and phase out the use of the pesticide completely by the early 2020s while staying on track with WHO malaria eradication targets.

“The new projects underline the determination of the international community to combat malaria while realizing a low, indeed zero, DDT world,” said UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner. “Today we are calling time on a chemical rooted in the scientific knowledge and simplistic options of a previous age.”

However, concern over DDT is matched by concern over the close to 250 million malaria infections a year which result in over 880,000 deaths.

WHO Director-General Margaret Chan noted that the agency “faces a double challenge, a commitment to the goal of drastically and sustainably reducing the burden of vector-borne diseases, in particular malaria, and at the same time a commitment to the goal of reducing reliance on DDT in disease vector control.”

Malaria is caused by a parasite, transmitted through infected mosquito bites. In the human body, the parasites multiply in the liver and then infect red blood cells, causing fever, headache, and vomiting between 10 and 15 days after the mosquito bite. If not treated, malaria can quickly become life-threatening by disrupting the blood supply to vital organs.


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