Last Updated
Thursday 03 September 2015, 18:00 pm.
DDT benefits outweigh risks - Ntebela

Human health is constantly under threat which is why governments leave no stone unturned in search of ways to eradicate diseases that have for decades remained a challenge to humankind.
By Staff Writer Sat 05 Sep 2015, 03:09 am (GMT +2)
Mmegi Online :: DDT benefits outweigh risks - Ntebela

Among the many strategies is the reintroduction of Dichlo Diphenyl Trichloroethane (DDT) in Botswana to fight malaria.

The Botswana government reintroduced the use of DDT in October this year after its use was suspended in 1997.

Use of this insecticide has however been banned in most countries because of its long-term negative effects on both human health and the environment.

Ministry of Health's principal Health Officer, Davis Ntebela said in Gaborone yesterday that they are aware of the negative impacts that the insecticides can cause on people and the environment. He said that they have weighed the benefits and problems of using DDT and concluded that the benefits outweigh the risks involved.

Ntebela says that DDT has consequences just like any other chemical and drug that are used and that if correct doses are applied, there will be no major problems to worry about.   He said that DDT in minimal quantities are currently used in Chobe District to reduce the amount of damage that can be caused by the chemical.

Ntebela said that since Botswana is still lagging behind in research, it is difficult to tell the impacts from the previous use of DDT in Botswana, which lasted from the 1950s until 1997.  He however said that there were no reports of illnesses or discomfort caused by the insecticide.

However, research has shown that DDT, the perceived silver bullet solution for malaria protection, is extremely hazardous to unborn babies, especially boys.  Scientists report that it causes greater long-term problems that may not be evident in the early applications of the pesticide.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) reports that about one million children die yearly of malaria, most of them African children under the age of five.  It holds that this could not be ignored, which was the endorsement of DDT. It supports the use of DDT in malaria control in epidemic and endemic areas. WHO says that benefits of using DDT far outweigh any health or environmental risks it may pose.

A study in Zambia in 2000 found that when all houses in a neighbourhood were sprayed, malaria incidence fell by 35 percent compared to years when none was sprayed. Another study showed that Swaziland and Madagascar had malaria epidemics killing more than 100, 000 people after suspending the use of DDT.  Both epidemics were stopped when DDT spraying resumed.

However, governmental agencies in the United States of America (US) and internationally have classified DDT as an agent that can cause cancer and nerve damage. 

Researchers conducted a two-year study in Limpopo Province of South Africa to determine the extent of the dangers of DDT on babies. In that country, DDT was sprayed on villages to reduce malaria between the years 1995 and 2003. Results from the study showed that women were more likely to give

birth to boys with a 33 percent higher chance of urogenital birth defects.

Research showed that women who stayed at home while others went to work or to study had a 41 percent higher chance of giving birth to a boy with urogenital birth defects, such as missing testicles or problems with their urethra or penis.  Scientists suggest that it is because they spent more time in their homes where domestic DDT based sprays were used to kill mosquitoes.  They said that if women are exposed to DDT, either through their diet or through the environment they live in, the chemical could accumulate in their bodies and consequently affects their boy babies. They believe that DDT can cross the placenta and be present in breast milk.

Another study carried out on boys born between 2004 and 2006, five to nine years after the official records of DDT use in South Africa showed that their mothers were exposed to spraying.  Researchers estimate that even if DDT use were to be stopped completely, it would take ten to 20 years for the chemical to clear off from the system of a person who has been exposed to the spraying. 

However, there are scientists who believe that DDT is not as harmful as it is portrayed to be.  They hold that too heavy or improper timing of DDT use may be harmful to plants and organisms, but only if they eat heavily sprayed fruits and vegetables.

DDT, a white, crystalline powder with little odour, is one of the famous pesticides in the world. It was first used as a pesticide on farms to control common agricultural pests.  It was later used to control certain insects, which carried diseases like malaria and yellow fever. 

During the 1970s, scientists questioned the safety of DDT on the environment and people. It was consequently banned from the US in 1972, and its use worldwide fell steeply after that.  The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) cancelled all use of DDT on bases that it is an extremely persistent chemical.  Once it gets in to fats of an organism, including a human being, it stays there.  It is said to be insoluble in water and highly soluble in fats, which means that it is not easy for this chemical to be washed away.

Scientists say that more and more DDT accumulates in the body as the organism continues to eat food with the chemical. They say that there comes a point where no more will be retained in the body. It is primarily stored in adrenals, testes and thyroid. DDT concentrations are especially high in human milk because production is heavily dependent on the use of stored body fats. Smaller concentrations are found in the liver and the kidneys.

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