By Surihe Gaomas WINDHOEK Despite the ongoing concern over the safety of DDT around the world, Namibia has been and still is safely using this insecticide in preventing malaria. It turns out that as much as dichlor-diphenyl-trichlorethylene, or DDT as it is commonly known, is being used to prevent the spread of malaria in most developing countries, the debate over its detrimental effects on the environment still continues. Before 1972, when its use was banned, DDT was commonly used as a pesticide on crops to kill mosquitoes. Furthermore, people thought DDT did not hurt any animals because it did not affect humans. Yet, as the debate goes, they were proved wrong as DDT was in fact affecting many animals other than mosquitoes, such as bats, fireflies, pelicans and the falcon bird. The birds then ate the insects, small birds and fish that contained DDT, which remained in the food chain for a long time. Fears are humans at the end of the day can eat the DDT-affected crops or animals. Thus according to the United States Environmental Protection Agency, “even though DDT has been banned since 1972, it can take more than 15 years to break down in the environment”. The agency states that the harmful effects of DDT can include damage to the liver, reduction of reproductive success, liver cancer and temporary damage to the nervous system. Furthermore, the argument is that humans can become exposed to DDT by eating contaminated fish, and infants may be exposed through breast milk and also by eating crops grown in contaminated soil. On the other hand, the story on DDT is that ever since these concerns came out in the early 1960s, the pesticide has been banned for use in agriculture and is now only being used effectively in malaria prevention. Hence the World Health Organisation (WHO) proposed and supports the continued use of DDT for disease vector control under the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants (POP). The key words stated by WHO are: “restrictions on DDT for public health use only”. Minister of Health and Social Services Dr Richard Kamwi, who is well versed with this issue, said the concern over the safety of DDT is not new, as it has been comprehensively addressed in the Stockholm Convention on POP. In short, DDT has for long been banned for agricultural use due to the long term effects it has on the environment, while it has been approved for only public health use in developing countries. Consequently, Namibia is safe when it comes to DDT use as the pesticide is only used inside houses through what is called indoor residual spraying (IRS). It is primarily indoor spraying of DDT which reduces and interrupts malarial transmission. “In Namibia we are meeting with the requirements of the Stockholm Convention on POP’s in order to avoid the misuse and leakage of DDT outside public health,” said Kamwi, insisting that there is no need for concern. “It is safe, it is very safe for the reason that we are only spraying inside the houses with trained personnel that wear protective clothing,” he said. In addition, USAID, in conjunction with WHO released a statement on the use of DDT last year throwing their support behind the use of DDT, primarily for public health. “The reason why we’ve stuck to DDT for so many years is because of its longevity and cost effectiveness. We normally spray it once a year and the DDT stays for between 12 and 18 months killing the malaria-carrying mosquitoes. Other insecticides have shorter effects and are four times more expensive than DDT. So we have a justifiable case why we are using it. The main idea is to save lives,” added Kamwi. Malaria is still a growing health challenge in Namibia as 20 percent of admissions in hospitals are due to this preventable disease. According to the latest Health Information System, there are 4 000 cases of malaria in northern Namibia per annum while deaths stand at 1 400 per year. “Malaria is still killing more people in the country than any other disease. For the first time Namibia received documentation from the World Health Organisation supporting the usage of DDT malarial spray, and also accepted by USAID,” he added. However, it turns out that DDT is banned in countries like Malawi for agricultural purposes. In Namibia, the health ministry has been making positive progress in the residual spraying of this chemical and scored up to 80 percent coverage in one season since last year. More than 60 000 bed nets were also distributed to women and children last year. Sharing the same sentiment, WHO Programme Officer Dr Desta Tiruneh said that since Namibia is sticking to spraying DDT only on walls and roofs inside houses and not outside in the environment, Namibia is safe. “There is no need to fear because there is no conclusive evidence to justify the impact that DDT has on human beings and the food chain,” said Tiruneh. DDT has therefore been and still is viewed as a long-term and effective solution to fighting mosquitoes in malaria-prone areas in the north and north-eastern parts of Namibia.
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