"We don't have an alternative"

Baby having blood test in Ethiopian clinic
Malaria is one of Ethiopia's biggest killers and children are worst affected

By Rageh Omaar in Ethiopia

Some of the world's poorest countries say their fight against malaria is being threatened by environmental agencies in the West.

Every 20 seconds a young child somewhere in the developing world contracts malaria and because they cannot afford modern drugs developing countries tackle the disease with cheap pesticides like DDT.

In Britain and other European countries, DDT has been banned for years because it's toxic and damages crops and wildlife - and some environmental groups want the ban extended world-wide.

But in Ethiopia a ban intended to help the environment could condemn many thousands to death.


Queue for clinic
Although clinic facilities are basic they are much in demand
In a clinic in central Ethiopia, hundreds of people a day come to be tested for the disease.

Malaria is one of the biggest killers in Ethiopia.

The government estimates that every year around 160,000 people die and millions of others contract the disease.

Jelan Bonju
Jelan Bonju has the classic malaria symptoms
Jelan Bonju has come to the clinic convinced that he has all the classic symptoms.

Like everyone else he must first have his blood taken.

The clinic only has the most basic facilities.

Lab technicians screen each sample to see if patients have caught the disease.

The test takes an hour.

Blood test result
Jelan's blood test shows the malaria parasite
The news from the blood sample is not good.

He is given basic anti-malarial drugs.

"I went with 20 others from my village to attend a funeral" Jelan Bonju explains.

"Twelve of them were struck down with malaria.

"When I heard that I knew I had to have a check up."

Malaria burden

For poor countries providing treatment is a burden.

They have to think about prevention.

And the spraying of insecticides is a crucial element in that.

DDT spraying
Houses in Ethiopia are sprayed with DDT inside...
This is DDT and despite the arguments against its use, Ethiopia and many other countries say it saves lives.

During the height of the malaria season tens of thousands of homes are sprayed.

It kills and repels the mosquitoes which carry malaria.

DDT spraying
...and out
It lasts for six months. It is also cheap. The nearest alternative is three times as expensive.

For Ethiopia, calls to ban the use of DDT are unrealistic.

"We don't have an alternative" says Berhane Mikail of the country's health authority.

"It's not practical in our situation. It doesn't mate with the reality of this area.

"We cannot ban these insecticides because we don't have alternatives."

The developing world is still battling against malaria, but an alternative to DDT has to be found.

One which is less environmentally damaging and which is also affordable to countries like Ethiopia.

Back to DDT