Date Published: 6 May 2009

Countries move toward more sustainable ways to roll back malaria

The United Nations Environment Programme and the World Health Organization, in partnership with the Global Environment Facility, today announced a rejuvenated international effort to combat malaria with an incremental reduction of reliance on the synthetic pesticide DDT.

Ten projects, all part of the global programme “Demonstrating and Scaling-up of sustainable Alternatives to DDT in Vector Management”, involving some 40 countries in Africa, the Eastern Mediterranean and Central Asia are set to test non-chemical methods ranging from eliminating potential mosquito breeding sites and securing homes with mesh screens to deploying mosquito-repellent trees and fish that eat mosquito larvae.

The new projects follow a successful demonstration of alternatives to DDT in Mexico and Central America. Here pesticide-free techniques and management regimes have helped cut cases of malaria by over 60%.

The success of the five year-long pilot indicates that sustainable alternatives to Dichloro-Diphenyl-Trichloroethane (DDT) are emerging as cost effective solutions that may be applicable regionally and globally.

The Integrated Vector Management (IVM) strategy promoted by the World Health Organization (WHO) provides the framework to include these measures in combinations of interventions adapted to differing local circumstances.

Allied to measures such as improved health care, monitoring and education the findings could set the stage for meeting the twin aims of achieving the health-related and environmental Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) by 2015 while also ridding the world of the persistent organic pollutant DDT.

The initiatives come amid long-standing and growing concern over the use of DDT and evidence that in many countries there is increasing mosquito resistance to the pesticide.

However concern over DDT is matched by concern over the global malaria burden in which close to 250 million cases a year result in over 880 000 deaths. Thus any reduction in the use of DDT or other residual pesticides must ensure the level of transmission interruption is, at least, maintained.

The international community has, under the Stockholm Convention, agreed to ban a ‘dirty dozen’ of persistent organic pollutants including, ultimately, DDT on environmental and health grounds.

However, a specific and limited exemption was made for the use of DDT to control malaria, because it was recognized that in some situations adequate alternative control methods were not currently available.

Aim of new projects

The aim of the new projects, a major initiative of the Global Environment Facility (GEF) with close to $40 million funding, being spearheaded by WHO and the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), is to achieve a 30% cut in the application of DDT world-wide by 2014 and its total phase-out by the early 2020s if not sooner, while staying on track to meet the malaria targets set by WHO.

Achim Steiner, UN Under-Secretary General and UNEP Executive Director which hosts the secretariat of the Stockholm Convention, said:

The new projects underline the determination of the international community to combat malaria while realizing a low, indeed zero DDT world”.

Today we are calling time on a chemical rooted in the scientific knowledge and simplistic options of a previous age. In doing so, innovative solutions are being catalyzed and sustainable choices brought forward that meet the genuine health and environmental aspirations of a 21st century society”.

WHO faces a double challenge - a commitment to the goal of drastically and sustainably reducing the burden of vector-borne diseases, in particular malaria, and at the same time a commitment to the goal of reducing reliance on DDT in disease vector control," said Dr Margaret Chan, WHO Director-General.

WHO sees these projects in the context of IVM which it promotes as the approach of choice to control transmission of malaria and other vector-borne diseases. A key element of IVM is a solid evidence base for the effectiveness of combinations of locally-adapted, cost-effective and sustainable vector-control methods. This approach will facilitate sustainable transition away from DDT.

Monique Barbut, Chief Executive Officer and Chairperson of the Global Environment Facility, the financial arm of the convention and which is funding over half of the initiative, said: “The GEF is investing in these projects to take decisive action toward ridding the world of dangerous chemicals now and forever. The dividends from these investments will mean a cleaner, safer and sustainable environment for future generations. “


Source: World Health Organization (WHO).

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