Official: DDT Debate Not Likely to Encompass Cambodia

June 27, 2002
By Brian Calvert
The Cambodia Daily

The push for the use of the controversial insecticide DDT is not likely to reach as far as Cambodia, because mosquito net distributions and the use of combination drug therapies are already effective in the fight against malaria, an official said Wednesday.

"We don't need to use it," said Dr Duong Socheat, director of the National Malaria Center. The current practices of mosquito nets and drug therapies have been enough to reduce malaria, he said.

Debate over the use of DDT, which was banned in many countries in the 1970s because of its harmful effects on wildlife and humans, has increased in recent weeks, with African leaders considering use of the insecticide to curb large numbers of malaria deaths.

Leaders of some African nations where malaria continues to exact a heavy economic and humanitarian toll have asked Western governments and agencies to pave the way for them to reinstate the use of DDT.

Health officials want to use DDT to spray in homes, where it can be an effective killer of the mosquitoes that carry the malaria parasite.

"What you need is a whole set of arrows in the quiver," Harvard immunologist and leading DDT proponent Amir Attaran told the Washington Times newspaper. "Along with mosquito nets, other insecticides and drugs, DDT needs to be one of them."
Attaran and others say the use of DDT inside the homes is not a threat to the environment. Other drugs can cost as much as five times more, while World Health Organization statistics say that malaria kills one child under the age of 5 every 30 seconds.

"Agriculture doesn't need to be using DDT. Saving children's lives is different," Attaran said. "Malaria extracts a really bitter price in human and economic development."

But some donors put conditions on aid that keeps DDT out of use, the Washington Times reported.

DDT is effective in the fight against malaria because it kills mosquitoes before they can pass on the disease, said Dr Stefan Hoyer, a malaria expert and WHO adviser to the malaria center.

"It disrupts the transmission process," he said.

After feeding, the mosquitoes like to rest on the wall, where they absorb the DDT toxin.

They are dead within two days, well before the 10-day mark where malaria moves from their stomachs to their salivary glands, making them infectious, he said. "It's much safer than having malaria."

So far, though, Cambodia's other methods have worked well, Duong Socheat said. "We don't need DDT. It is toxic [and] is too strong. It has a strong smell," he said.

"It wouldn't be useful in Cambodia because, in general, the huts [and houses] have wide openings," Hoyer said. "For our environment...mosquito nets are a much better tool."