Scientists Publish Consensus Statement Critical of DDT Use for Malaria Control

Feb. 10, 2010, 12:09 p.m.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Spraying of the insecticide DDT in malaria-endemic areas in Africa and Asia should be significantly reduced because of the possibility of serious health effects that might result from exposure, according to a panel of scientists, Environmental Health News reports. The 15 environmental health experts from the U.S. and South Africa reviewed 500 health studies before forming a consensus statement, which was published online on Monday in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives (Cone, Environmental Health News, 5/4).

In addition to reduced exposure to DDT, the statement calls for efforts to expand the understanding of the health effects caused by DDT exposure and the development of DDT alternatives for malaria control, according to a release (University of California, Berkeley release, 5/4). In the consensus statement, the scientists conclude that DDT "should be used with caution, only when needed, and when no other effective, safe and affordable alternatives are locally available."

Although many countries signed on to the 2001 Stockholm Convention - which bans the use of DDT and other pesticides - the agreement permits the use of DDT for malaria control. In 2006, WHO and the President's Malaria Initiative endorsed the use of DDT to prevent malaria. Currently, it is sprayed inside houses and buildings in many countries in Africa, as well as in India and North Korea.

The scientists say that indoor residual spraying "can result in substantial exposure and that DDT may pose a risk for human populations." The potential risks include reduced fertility, genital birth defects, breast cancer, diabetes and damage to developing brains, according to the scientists.

The panel's position is "likely to be controversial with public health officials," according to Environmental Health News. However, the scientists recognize that some areas are dependent on the use of DDT, and they recommend that spraying is monitored to ensure that it is used according to guidelines and that improved application techniques are employed.

Breanda Eskenazi - the lead author of the consensus statement and a University of California, Berkeley School of Public Health professor - said she is concerned because the health of people inside the homes is not being monitored. "Clearly, more research is needed. but in the meantime, DDT should really be the last resort against malaria, rather than the first line of defense."

"We cannot allow people to die from malaria, but we also cannot continue using DDT if we know about the health risks," said Tiaan de Jager, a panel member who is a professor at the School of Health Systems & Public Health at the University of Pretoria in South Africa. "Safer alternatives should be tested first and if successful, DDT should be phased out without putting people at risk" (Environmental Health News, 5/4).

The full consensus statement is available here.


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