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Original Article

Wed, 23 Feb 2000 10:03:56 +0200

Malaria Epidemic in KwaZulu-Natal and DDT - The Facts

Hi all, the message below about malaria and DDT in Kwazulu/Natal is accurate (except for the species name "gambiensis" which does not exist - the member of the group that we have here is An. arabiensis) and outlines the situation very well. I heartily endorse everything Gerhard says about the sensible use of DDT and the precautions visitors to the region should take. I also hope that his appeal for environmentalists to take a responsible attitude to malaria control and the limited use of DDT will be heeded.


From: "M Villet"
Date: Tue, 22 Feb 2000 18:10:03 +0200
Subject: Malaria Epidemic and DDT - The True Facts

Hello again,

This matter came up on the SA BirdNet forum, and seems relevant to systematists and other biodiversity people, especially those doing field work. Maureen, any commentary?

------- Forwarded message follows -------
From: "Brenda Daly"
To: "SABirdnet"
Subject: Malaria Epidemic and DDT - The True Facts
Date sent: Wed, 16 Feb 2000 10:47:39 -0800

Malaria is threatening the lives of thousands of South Africans in Kwazulu-Natal and the Lowveld regions of the Northern Province and Mpumalanga. More than 50,000 people have been infected during 1999 and estimated numbers may reach over 200,000 in February 2001 if the malaria mosquito is not brought under control. Scientist discovered Anopheles funestus mosquitoes during a recent survey in northern Kwazulu-Natal. This particular species was absent from South Africa for the past four decades while Anopheles arabiensis (or gambiensis)(An. arabiensis - sic) was present in summer months after normal rain. An. funestus is much more dangerous than its summer counterpart as it breeds all over in swamps, wetlands and water resources even during cooler winter months. It is also a better vector or transmitter of malaria than A. gambiensis. DDT that was used all over the malaria areas until 1996 exterminated An. funestus but the termination of DDT use in KZN appeared to have opened the doors for A. funestus again. This mosquito is completely resistant to the new, softer pyrethroid insecticides that were introduced by the National Department of Health (NDH). Pyrethroids are effective against A. gambiensis (An. arabiensis - sic)and will be continued as the primary malaria vector control products in South Africa.

The Endangered Wildlife Trust's Poison Working Group endorsed the limited and restricted use of small quantities of DDT in northern KZN by the malaria control teams of the NDH. No other products are effective against the deadly An. funestus. This decision resulted in an unprecedented uproar from political parties in KZN, other conservation NGOs and wildlife enthusiasts that were clearly not well informed about the magnitude of the problem, the pesticides and the application methods. In order to clarify the misconceptions the Poison Working Group offers the following information:

1.. DDT has been banned since the 1970s from agricultural use in South Africa and will never be allowed for any other purposes that malaria vector control. It is still registered as a malaria vector control agent but only by the NDH. It is a serious criminal offence to acquire, distribute, sell or apply DDT for any other purpose.

2.. DDT has been used until 1999 in the Northern Province by the NDH but was phased out of KZN and Mpumalanga in favour of pyrethroids. It is a fallacy to believe that DDT was completely banned in South Africa.

3.. DDT is applied only on the indoor walls and under the eves of huts, dormitories and residences and not anywhere else. Some individuals had the strange idea that DDT was applied to the breeding places of mosquitoes. That has not been the case for several decades.

4.. Under these limited and controlled conditions, DDT does not pose a significant threat to wildlife. DDT is the product that was responsible for the drastic decline in raptors such as the Peregrine Falcon, Golden Eagle, Bald Eagle, Condors and other species during the years that literally thousands of tonnes were used in agriculture all over the world. Recent studies in the USA and South Africa indicate that the levels of DDT are insignificant in terms of impacts on raptors.

5.. DDT is not toxic to human beings at the rates of exposure that is typical for the malaria vector control programme. It is also not carcinogen (cancer agent) as many people would like to believe. The Poison Working Group believes that all South Africans carry traces of DDT, DDD and DDE in their systems this proves that the products is a bio-accumulative product, but also that it does not pose a threat to the lives of people.

6.. Should DDT not be used right now to bring the An. funestus under control the northern regions of KZN may well become a death trap to all people. Tourism which is the backbone of the region may suffer severely if a pandemic malaria situation arises (which may well be the case). This will result in a multitude of socio-political and environmental problems.

7.. The Poison Working Group is working closely with Dr. Rajendra Maharaj and his team in the malaria control division of NDH. Tim Snow who is the field officer of the Poison Working Group in KZN has already trained the spray teams about the correct and responsible application of DDT. We have also drafted a protocol for the circulation of all rinse water and other contaminated materials to prevent any DDT entering the environment. The Poison Working Group is monitoring the process in KZN closely and will act relentlessly if protocols are not strictly adhered to.

8.. At this stage it would be irresponsible to turn a blind eye to the malaria epidemic and the Poison Working Group appeals to the general public, the media and conservation NGOs to be sensible in their approach and to refrain from making uninformed statements about "poisons" and the environment. The Poison Working Group is always willing to advise anyone on pesticides. We handle over 42,000 per annum. The group is concerned about the public's outcry against the responsible use of a product against an epidemic disease while hundreds of birds are deliberately poisoned every month. There are numerous cases where birdwatchers failed to report poisoning cases to the Poison Working Group even though the particular people were at the site of poisoning.

9.. DDT is at this stage a necessary evil in the fight against malaria. The Poison Working Group would dearly like to see the product completely banned but a new remedy for malaria vector control needs to be found soon. Bayer and Aventis have products that should be suitable for mosquito control and the Poison Working Group is working closely with both companies in this regard.

10.. Members of the public that are visiting the endemic malaria areas should take all precautions:
  1. .. Take prophylactic drugs as prescribed by your general practitioner.
  2. .. Use skin application repellents where possible.
  3. .. Dress appropriately at night to avoid being bitten. There are some excellent products such as Peripell (active ingredient is permethrin; Reg. No. L4926) that could be used to treat clothes in order to prevent mosquito bites.
  4. .. Use mosquito bed nets and treat these with products such as Solfac (active ingredient cyfluthrin; Reg. No. 5747) or Peripell.
  5. .. Use mosquito coils, heated pyrethroid mats or liquids indoors at night to repel and kill mosquitoes.
  6. .. Consult your medical practitioner immediately in case of nausea, dizziness, headaches and fevers after visiting an endemic malaria area.

For further information please call Prof Gerhard Verdoorn, Poison Working Group at 082-446-8946.

Martin H. Villet
Dept of Zoology & Entomology
Rhodes University
Grahamstown, South Africa 6140

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