Nairobi — Uganda will proceed with the use of the pesticide DDT to control malaria, despite threats by the European Union that it could lead to its agricultural exports being locked out.
The head of the Economic, Trade and Social sectors desk at the EU delegation to Uganda, Tom Vens told The EastAfrican that the EU had warned the government against the use of DDT, which scientists claim, can cause cancer among humans if ingested.
"We have advised the government that they are taking a risk if they go ahead with this DDT use, he said. "We, however, leave it to the government, of course, to decide. But nothing will happen, at least on the official side, if they decide to use DDT in strict compliance with the Stockholm Convention," he said.
The Stockholm Convention is a global treaty to protect human health and the environment from persistent organic pollutants.
The EU official, however, said that they would have no control over the consumer organisations in Europe which could pressure supermarkets to stop selling agricultural products from Uganda.
Mr Vens said, "If the strict controls that should be put in place when DDT is used are not fully adhered to, and there is a risk of contamination of the food chain. It would not automatically lead to a ban of food products, but it will mean that that particular consignment cannot be sent to Europe."
However, Uganda's Health Minister Jim Muhwezi told The EastAfrican that the government was going ahead with plans to use DDT to control malaria.
"What we plan to do is within the agreed framework of the World Health Organisation and there is nothing new in this," said Mr Muhwezi. "We shall use Indoors Residual Spraying and this means it will not come into contact with the exports."
He said the government does not plan massive spraying outside buildings and was educating the public on the use of the pesticide, which kills mosquitoes that transmit malaria.
"We have to kill malaria using DDT and the matter has been settled that DDT is not harmful to humans and if used for indoor-insecticide spraying. It's the most effective and cheapest way to fight malaria," Mr Muhwezi said.
He said a study released in November 2005 found no link between DDT and conditions such as impotence, infertility, neurological damage, congenital abnormalities and cancer.
Malaria kills more people than any other disease in Uganda each year and is responsible for 21 per cent of hospital deaths and 40 per cent of illness in the country's health facilities.
The minister said the government will scrap taxes on mosquito nets starting next financial year and make treated mosquito nets available to vulnerable groups such as pregnant women, children below five years and people living with HIV/Aids.
The EU concerns are likely to cause some fears in Uganda's agricultural sector, which contributes about 36 per cent of the growth domestic product, and for which Europe is an important export destination for fish, coffee, fresh flowers, bananas and cotton.
A few years ago, the EU banned fish imports from Uganda citing poor sanitation and substandard processing methods. The ban was later lifted after reforms in the fish sector.
DDT was used extensively in the 1950s and early 1960s to fight malaria and other pests across the world but was stopped after scientists raised questions about its effects on humans - although no fatalities have been reported.
A 2001 World Health Organisation report put hospital deaths due to malaria in Uganda at 38 per cent and the percentage of households using insecticide-treated mosquito nets at 6 per cent.