19 May 2006

Kenya: DDT Holds the Key to Malaria Control


Nairobi — Malaria is still the leading killer disease in the world. Statistics show that in Africa, a person dies every 30 seconds from the disease. The challenge to many countries, including Kenya, has been prevention and treatment of the disease.

Several initiatives have been mooted in vain, with the incidence growing by the day. Mid-last month, the Government introduced artemisinin combination therapy (ACT) as the first-line treatment for malaria to replace sulphur-based drugs that have lost potency against the parasite.

Although this was a positive step, there is need to invest in other intervention measures to wipe out mosquitoes. One of the best ways of controlling malaria is to use DDT, the insecticide that most environmentalists love to hate.

The insecticide was banned several years ago following pressure by environmental lobbyists, despite the fact that indoor residual spraying (IRS) with DDT eradicated malaria in the US and Europe and led to spectacular declines in the disease in other countries.

This resulted in an increase in the incidence of malaria, forcing some countries to review the ban against the wish of the European Union, US and UN. Southern Africa is today winning the war after reverting to DDT use.

The incidence has fallen by over 80 per cent in South Africa and almost by a half in Zambia, which reverted to the IRS programme in 2002. Tanzania and Uganda have just opted for the programme, despite threats by the EU to ban Ugandan agricultural exports.

Given these successes, there is need for the UN to review its stand on the insecticide and help developing countries institute tight controls and strict audits of their malaria-control programmes.

The Global Fund to Fight Aids, Tuberculosis and Malaria has recognised the importance of IRS and DDT to malaria control, and has been funding several IRS programmes in Southern Africa. Kenya should reach out to the fund and get support.

As the Kenya Medical Research Institute director, Dr Davy Koech, argues, many more lives could be saved if donors, the UN and the private sector listened to African malaria experts and put science ahead of politics and their own vested interests.

The Government should champion this campaign instead of giving it a passive approach.

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