NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Bringing Back DDT in South Africa

May 10, 2004

The World Health Organization and other groups are reluctant to endorse the use of DDT in spite of its effectiveness against malaria, according to Roger Bate, director of the organization Africa Fighting Malaria.

The 1972 ban of DDT in the United States, which was based more on political than scientific evidence, subsequently led to environmental groups pressuring for a world-wide ban. As a result, children in Africa are dying from the disease at an alarming rate, about one child every 30 seconds.

However, South Africa has reintroduced the use of DDT and a new therapeutic drug, Coartem, both with great success:

  • When South Africa halted the use of DDT in 1996 due to environmental pressure, the death rate from malaria was around 50 per year, with only a few thousand cases reported annually.
  • After replacing DDT with other, less-effective insecticides, 80,000 cases and 500 deaths annually were reported by the year 2000; in one province alone, cases increased from 8,000 to 42,000 over four years.
  • While prophylactic drugs and insecticide-treated bed netting are effective malaria preventatives, they are much more costly than DDT, particularly for a continent such as Africa than spends less than $10 per person annually on health care.
  • Within 18 months after resuming DDT treatments and using Coartem, malaria cases and deaths were reduced by 85 percent in just 18 months.

While the drug Coartem is more expensive than existing drugs, it has become affordable to South Africa when used in combination with DDT spraying, since there are fewer malaria cases to treat. Moreover, while cheaper drugs are endorsed by the WHO, they tend to produce resistance in patients and work only about 25 percent of the time.

Source: Roger Bate, "Death to Mosquitoes - DDT is Saving Lives in South Africa," The Weekly Standard, March 1, 2004; Richard Tren and Roger Bate, "South Africa's War Against Malaria: Lessons for the Developing World," Cato Institute, Policy Analysis 513, March 25, 2004.

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