I was shocked to read in the paper today that on September 15th the World Health Organization endorsed the indoor use of the pesticide DDT for malaria control in poor nations (I'm still not quite sure how I missed that anouncement when it first came out) . The shock came primarily from the article being a backlash against environmentalists for succeeding to create the ban 30 years ago in the first place. The gist of the article was that environmentalists created a unfounded / unresearched alarm to the pesticide resulting in large protests which in turn put enough pressure on governments to quit using the product. The article went on to say that none of these claims against the pesticide ever had any scientific basis. Upon doing a little more research, I discovered in a WHO press release that they do indeed now take the view that, "extensive research and testing has since demontrated that well-managed indoor residual spraying programmes using DDT pose no harm to wildlife or to humans."
Now I'm sure that malaria is a horrible disease and I would hate to see it go unchecked, however, I must wonder what a "well managed programme" looks like and who is responsible for overseeing that the use of this chemical remains "well managed." I also wonder who is really behind the push for the increased use of DDT as there seem to just as many on the opposite side of the fence who claim that there are better alternatives that are just as efficient for controling malaria. On one website it was stated that Mexico, who committed to ending the use of DDT by 2007, has been so successful in the use of alternatives that its DDT manufacturing plant has ceased production owing to lack of demand. Further, Jorge Mendez, Mexico's director of their malaria control programme, declared that it is 25% cheaper for Mexico to use alternatives. The Pan American Health Organization even went so far as to express reservations about the effectiveness of broadscale application of DDT for malaria after one of its studies showed that in the late 1980's and early 90's, malaria rates went up in Brazil even as spraying of houses with DDT increased, but rates dropped after Brazil shifted to alternative control methods.
Despite the WHO claiming that indoor residual spraying programs pose no risk to wildlife or humans, it seems that researchers in both Mexico and South Africa have found that humans living in areas where spraying took place have raised concentrations of DDT and it was estimated that breastfed children in those areas were being dosed at levels exceeding those recommended by WHO. Despite the fact that not all the dangers of exposure to DDT have been proven, I need to wonder if we want to be part of this massive experiment until they are.