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W.H.O. Calls for Indoor Use of DDT to Control Malaria

This is the VOA Special English Health Report.

The World Health Organization now supports the use of DDT in homes to control malaria. The agency supported indoor spraying with DDT and other insect poisons until the early nineteen eighties. It stopped as health and environmental concerns about DDT increased.

But last Friday, an assistant director-general of the United Nations agency announced a policy change. Anarfi Asamoa-Baah said indoor spraying is useful to quickly reduce the number of infections caused by malaria-carrying mosquitoes. Doctor Asamoa-Baah said DDT presents no health risk when used correctly.

The W.H.O. says it supports indoor spraying in areas with high malaria rates, including throughout Africa. But its malaria program director, Arata Kochi, says DDT should be used only inside houses and huts, not outside and not for agriculture use.

In the nineteen forties DDT was found to be an excellent way to control insects. It cost little to produce and was not found to harm humans. So it was widely used for people and crops.

But in the sixties, environmentalist Rachel Carson and her book "Silent Spring" led to a movement to ban it. The United States did just that in the nineteen seventies.

Rachel Carson warned that DDT stayed in the environment for many years. She also warned that it thinned the shells of unborn birds and caused health problems for other animals.

Yet the rise of malaria has led some environmental groups to change their thinking. The group Environmental Defense, which led the anti-DDT movement, now supports indoor use to control malaria.

The W.H.O. says malaria sickens five hundred million people and results in more than one million deaths every year. Each day, an estimated three thousand babies and young children die from it. The large majority of deaths are in Africa south of the Sahara.

But many critics of DDT worry it will not be used with great care. University of Illinois scientist May Berenbaum argues that DDT is not as effective as people might think. Writing in the Washington Post, she noted that some African mosquitoes developed resistance to it. She says DDT should be only one tool among many for insect control.

The W.H.O. supports other interventions as well. But it says India sharply cut malaria rates in the past with indoor use of DDT. And ten countries in southern Africa are currently using it for malaria control.

And that’s the VOA Special English Health Report, written by Caty Weaver. For more reports go to I’m Steve Ember.