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Opinion: How DDT could stop the spread of malaria

Spraying safe amounts of pesticides, like DDT, is the best way to control the deadly malaria parasite.

In contrast to the U.N.’s policy-making against DDT and other insecticides, ministers of health know that without an effective, long-lasting and affordable insecticide, the fight against malaria will continue to be a difficult and daunting challenge. Developing countries are now being encouraged to eliminate malaria. Yet, without DDT and other insecticides, success cannot be guaranteed. Furthermore, growing problems of increasing costs and parasite resistance to drugs preclude mass drug distributions as the way forward for national programs.

While Guyana has achieved impressive control of malaria through a comprehensive control and treatment program, our efforts are stagnating and the incidence of the disease is rising once more. DDT would be a prized tool for us, but international pressures against DDT have severely affected production. Today, India is the only producer of DDT and the price of DDT has risen sharply.

Global leadership is needed to re-examine political positions and international regulations that effectively ban DDT from disease control programs. The policies that specifically target DDT for elimination must, themselves, be eliminated. A global mechanism should be established for producing and distributing DDT to prevent and control malaria, dengue and other mosquito-borne diseases.

More must be done to increase public recognition that public health insecticides, such as DDT, save lives. There are laudable global initiatives to develop new vaccines and medicines for tropical diseases, but initiatives to develop new insecticides are woefully underfunded and inadequate.

As I am responsible for the malaria program in Guyana, I can attest to the lethal consequences of anti-DDT policies and regulations. It would be shameful for us to allow needless deaths to occur and not try to protect one of our most valuable tools. Anything less than the efforts outlined above will hopelessly marginalize the global fight to eradicate malaria and other devastating diseases.

My challenge to everyone engaged in the reckless move to ban DDT is this: is it worth the millions of deaths of poor people and their children?

Dr. Leslie Ramsammy is Minister of Health for Guyana and responsible for the country’s national malaria control program.