South Africa Defends DDT Use to Fight Malaria

Updated 11:31 AM ET December 7, 2000

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - South Africa said on Thursday it needed to keep using DDT to fight a growing threat from the lethal, mosquito-borne disease malaria.

South Africa is hosting U.N.-sponsored talks aimed at curbing or eliminating 12 persistent organic pollutants (POPs) including DDT, which has been used since World War II to protect people from malaria.

"It is South Africa's position that DDT needs to be used for health usage only," the South African delegation said in a statement.

"This view has received widespread support from the conference and we believe that this is a move that puts people first," it said.

"The extent of its (DDT's) usefulness has been demonstrated by a successful malaria-spraying program in southern Africa resulting in the saving of millions of lives."

Thirty-four countries have banned DDT while 34 others severely restrict its use. Short-term effects of the chemical on humans are limited, but long-term exposures have been associated with chronic health problems.

South Africa says that in 1996, under international pressure, it switched from the use of DDT for public health to a bio-degradable synthetic called pyrethroid.

Malaria cases have been on the rise since and one malaria carrying mosquito which was eradicated in South Africa after 50 years of house spraying with DDT has returned. It has proven to be resistant to pyrethroid.

In the country's KwaZulu-Natal province, the number of reported malaria cases has risen from just under 10,000 in 1996 to around 40,000 last year. "The main problem facing us is the development of alternatives," Professor Henk Bouwman, a DDT expert who is part of the South African delegation at the talks, told a news briefing.

"Any alternatives that we do use should be as safe or safer than DDT, be economically viable and be just as effective at fighting malaria," he said.

He said that South Africa is now phasing DDT back in after consultations with the World Health Organization, malaria specialists and communities in malaria areas.

Malaria remains a lethal force on the world's poorest continent, killing around one million Africans each year.

Delegates at the conference said there was a growing consensus that DDT and PCBs needed to be placed under an annex calling for restrictive use while most or all of the other 10 POPs under discussion will likely be slated for elimination.

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