Africa Fighting Malaria: German Commercial Interests Kill African Children; Opposition to DDT Increases Malaria in Uganda
WASHINGTON, Sept. 28 -- Ninety-three percent of Uganda’s population is at risk from malaria, with millions of cases and thousands of deaths annually. But senior management within German chemical giant Bayer Crop Sciences is putting commercial profit above the lives of Uganda’s children, by denying them use of the life-saving insecticide DDT, according to Africa Fighting Malaria.
“It’s utterly disgraceful for a powerful company like Bayer not only to put commercial interests above human life, but also to lie in the process,” says Richard Tren, South African director of Africa Fighting Malaria, a health advocacy group. Tren testifies on DDT to the U.S. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee (EPW) hearing today.
Many poor countries with malaria use DDT to control the mosquitoes that carry the parasites. DDT is sprayed in tiny amounts on the inside walls of dwellings, in carefully controlled programs that save countless thousands of lives, mainly children, every year.
But Bayer sees things differently. “We fully support (the EU’s decision) to ban imports of agricultural products coming from countries using DDT,” Bayer vector control manager Gerhard Hesse proudly proclaimed in an email exchange with malaria scientists. Admitting that “DDT use is for us a commercial threat,” Dr. Hesse went on to expound a series of half-truths and outright falsehoods, mostly denigrating the use of DDT.
Bayer Crop Sciences reported sales of over US$7 billion in 2004, and Bayer’s Dr. Hesse sits on the board of the World Health Organization’s Roll Back Malaria (RBM) coalition -- as do other commercial contractors to USAID. It has been rumored that these potentially conflicting interests are undermining RBM, which was charged in 1998 with halving malaria rates by 2010. Instead, RBM has overseen an increase in disease and death rates, due in part to policies that shun DDT. RBM has been characterized as “a failing public health program” by the leading British Medical Journal.
Until now, Uganda has bowed to outside pressure. However, Ugandan Health Minister Jim Muhwezi is determined to use DDT. Speaking at a World Malaria Day commemoration in April 2005, Muhwezi noted that “DDT has been proven, over and over again, to be the most effective and least expensive method of fighting malaria.”
Many malarial countries rely on international aid to fund their programs and are therefore forced to adopt policies that aid agencies and the European Union prefer, but which are not necessarily what the countries need.
Britain’s leading malaria specialist, Professor Chris Curtis of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, says of the threatened EU ban: “We are now informed that the ban is supported by a multi-national insecticide manufacturer. Such a ban would presumably be in the interests of the manufacturer, who could expect increased sales of its insecticides. However, it would not be in the interests of Ugandans, who wish to protect as many people as possible from malaria with the limited funding available for vector control.”
Don Roberts, professor of tropical public health at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, said “there is overwhelming evidence that malarious countries are being pressed by rich countries not to use DDT. It is a chilling thought that rich and powerful countries are willing to trade the lives of poor rural people for reasons that have no basis in science.”
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