EU cautions over plans to use DDT to fight malaria

The European Union has cautioned Uganda against the use of an organic pollutant to control malaria, commonly known as DDT, warning that its use could pose dire consequences for exports to the European market.

"If Uganda is to use DDT for malaria control, it is advisable to do so under strictly controlled circumstances, and in consultation with other countries in the region which may be affected," the Brussels-based union said in a statement.

A parallel system to monitor foodstuffs for the presence of DDT also had to be set up. "This would ensure that any contamination of foodstuffs is detected and corrective measures taken," the EU noted. "Such measures would also address DDT-related health concerns of consumers both in Uganda and in export destinations."

Scientifically known as chlorodiphenyl-trichloroethane, DDT is toxic, persistent and bioacumulative in the tissues of living organisms, including man. Studies indicate that 50 percent of DDT can remain in the soil for 10 to 15 years after application.

"It has been detected in human breast milk, is acutely toxic to birds and highly toxic to fish," the EU statement pointed out. "There is therefore no doubt of DDT contamination of the food chain."

The EU head of delegation in Uganda, Sigurd Illing, told IRIN that Europe was Uganda's main market, accounting for over 30 percent of annual exports. Many of Uganda's exports to the EU are food-related, including fish, coffee and other agricultural products.

"We support the fight against malaria, and we are major contributors to the Global Fund on Malaria, Tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS," Illing said. "We just made a general warning that we want to see that all considerations are made before the spraying. Uganda also needs to decide why it should use DDT - is there no other alternative - because there could be many implications with DDT."

The government has indicated its readiness to use residual spraying in people's homes to reduce the incidence of malaria, but environmentalists have argued against the move.

"DDT is a dangerous organic pollutant," Ugandan MP Ken Lukyamuzi told IRIN. "If the government wants its use it in Uganda, it must first seek the sanction of fellow members of the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants (POP), which we ratified in July 2004."

Lukyamuzi questioned the rationale of spraying homes. "The government should explain why it should spray people's houses where mosquitoes do not breed," he told IRIN. "If they cannot, then they have no moral authority to spray people's houses. DDT was outlawed 50 years ago - it seems we are being taken back to the dark ages."

Last year about 80,000 people died of malaria in Uganda, half of them children under the age of five. The country spends some US $347 million annually to control the disease and according to health minister Jim Muhwezi, up to 40 percent of the outpatient care goes to malaria treatment.

Muhwezi said recently that some companies producing anti-malaria drugs could be fuelling campaigns by environmentalists to block the use of DDT, adding that donors had not released enough funds for malaria eradication.

"People who give us money cannot give us for malaria - it is a deliberate move by manufacturers, who want to continue selling their drugs," Muhwezi said during a debate on using DDT for malaria control. "We know about it."