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Guest blog: Toward safer malaria control solutions

Abou Thiam's picture

A new World Malaria Day is around the corner and we at PAN applaud the strides made to combat this deadly disease over the past year.

Next month we’ll be closely following discussions at the Conference of Parties of the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants (aka the “POPs Treaty”) in Geneva. This is the body that banned DDT globally back in 2004, except for limited and specific uses for malaria control.

At the upcoming meeting, the use of DDT for malaria control will be reviewed — and its continued use will likely be recommended.

Safer solutions

While PAN fully supports the Stockholm Convention, we remain concerned that a solid body of science shows serious human health and environmental implications of DDT use for malaria control. Moreover there are many sustainable and effective alternatives that can and should be scaled up and used widely.

The Stockholm Convention’s pre-meeting papers on DDT from this year acknowledge that there are serious slip-ups in how insecticides like DDT are recommended for use and their actual use on the ground. Implementation of adequate safeguards while conducting indoor spraying in homes in many African countries is often missing.

Meanwhile, mosquitoes keep developing increased resistance to DDT and other insecticides.

As my colleague Dr. Paul Saoke and I pointed out in our blog marking World Malaria Day last year, there are many solutions for malaria control beyond DDT, relying instead on community-based Integrated Vector Management (IVM).

The Global Alliance for Alternatives to DDT, which includes international bodies such as the World Health Organization and the UN Environment Program, has been working at a steady pace to identify and promote alternative tools for controlling malaria. Unfortunately, it has been focusing its attention largely on chemical alternatives for vector control, rather than more systemic solutions.

Guidance for funders

While we welcome this work being done to move away from DDT, the longer-term solution for truly safe and sustainable malaria control will involve scaling up non-chemical alternatives, an area to which the Alliance has not been providing nearly enough attention. 

Last year, we highlighted an important PAN International project that will help move us in the right direction: a "Funder's Framework" designed to assist malaria control funders achieve the most significant reduction in malaria possible while using cost-effective, ecologically sound and sustainable IVM interventions.

Developed with the International Center for Insect Physiology and Ecology in Kenya, the Framework incorporates lessons from successful activities across the continent and provides indicators for malaria control program officials to assess how well IVM is adopted in their projects and programs. Dr. Saoke's experience in East Africa highlights the importance of these approaches:

"The methods that are working well in Africa rely on people’s participation, and focus on solutions such as cleaning mosquito breeding sites, improving sanitation, improving health treatment facilities and ensuring widespread awareness about malaria’s causes and prevention. Such community- and ecosystem-based IVM provides effective vector control and minimize risks to human health and the environment."

Finally, significant progress is being made in many African countries in the fight against malaria without the need to use DDT. It’s high time for a full-fledged transition toward safe, sustainable malaria control. Our children deserve nothing less.

Dr. Abou Thiam is Regional Coordinator of Pesticide Action Network Africa based in Dakar, Senegal.

Abou Thiam
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