Why DDT Should Not Be Used to Control Malaria

DDT used to control malaria, kills mosquitoes, with health risks and environmental risks
DDT should not be used to control malaria because of health and environmental risks. (Photo: Public Domain)

Malaria is a public health problem in many developing countries. Areas with uncontrolled large populations of mosquitoes have higher risks of malaria. In the early 1900s, governments started using dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane (DDT) to kill mosquitoes that spread malaria. However, public criticism against DDT led to its ban in the United States and many other countries. DDT comes with health risks for humans and wildlife. These risks indicate the inappropriate application of the substance, even if it aims to help eradicate malaria. Still, many countries use DDT to address malaria. As such, debates continue on the controversial use and risks of DDT. Countries with significant malaria problems see the substance as a considerable solution, while other countries classify the substance as a health hazard. Nonetheless, given the health risks, governments must impose stricter guidelines and restrictions on using DDT to control Malaria.

This article examines the use of DDT as a chemical solution to the problem of malaria.

What is Malaria and Its Significance?

Malaria is a parasitic disease involving protozoans. The symptoms of infection are fever, chills, headaches and anemia in some cases. The protozoan is carried in the bloodstream of the host and distributed throughout the body. Thus, the disease affects various parts of the body. Malarial infection of vital organs has potential to kill the host, especially when organs swell or fail. Female Anopheles mosquitoes are the main vectors that carry, transmit and spread malaria. This factor makes Anopheles mosquitoes the primary target in strategies that aim to eradicate malaria.

The significance of malaria is that it has major impacts on society. Such impacts include human capital, costs of health care, and economic consequences in affected areas. The effects of malaria emphasize the importance of effective strategies for eradication or control. The typical short-term goal is to control the spread of the disease. However, the ultimate long-term goal is to eradicate malaria from the affected areas. Success of these solutions and strategies can lead to improvements in quality of life and the economy.

What is dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane (DDT)?

Dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane (DDT) is a chemical that kills insect pests. It was used in the early 1900s as a solution to the problem of typhus and malaria. The United States and allied countries sprayed DDT on people, plants, buildings and large areas of land and bodies of water to kill malaria-carrying mosquitoes.

DDT effectively kills mosquitoes and other insects that carry malaria. However, research now shows that it potentially harms more than just the target mosquitoes. It kills harmless insects and poses significantly health risks to humans. Scientists and critics argue that DDT increases the risk of cancer.

DDT Pros and Cons

A main advantage of DDT is that it is effective in killing malaria-carrying mosquitoes. Thus, from the malaria prevention standpoint, DDT is useful and beneficial. It is frequently used to kill malaria-carrying mosquitoes in remote areas with stagnant water. The absence of humans in remote areas minimizes adverse health effects of spraying DDT in these areas. Thus, the advantages of DDT are as follows:

  1. Effectively kills malaria-carrying mosquitoes
  2. Easy to apply, especially by spraying

However, DDT spraying kills animals other than mosquitoes. It can also upset the ecological balance in the affected areas. Moreover, it seeps into ground water and potentially harms human populations near the affected area. Thus, the disadvantages of DDT are as follows:

  1. Kills animals other than malaria-carrying mosquitoes
  2. Disrupts ecological balance
  3. Seeps into groundwater and affects human health

Final Note

Malaria remains a public health problem, especially in poor developing countries. DDT is a chemical substance that effectively kills malaria-carrying mosquitoes. However, it is harmful to humans and wildlife. For the protection of public health and the environment, DDT should not be used to control malaria. Governments must seek other effective and safer methods of preventing malaria.

References
  • Channa, K., Rollin, H. B., Nost, T. H., Odland, J. O., & Sandanger, T. M. (2012). Prenatal exposure to DDT in malaria endemic region following indoor residual spraying and in non-malaria coastal regions of South Africa. Science of the Total Environment429, 183-190.
  • De Jager, C., Aneck-Hahn, N. H., Bornman, M. S., Farias, P., & Spano, M. (2012). DDT exposure levels and semen quality of young men from a malaria area in South Africa. Malaria Journal11(1), 21.
  • Gyalpo, T., Fritsche, L., Bouwman, H., Bornman, R., Scheringer, M., & Hungerbuhler, K. (2012). Estimation of human body concentrations of DDT from indoor residual spraying for malaria control. Environmental Pollution169, 235-241.
  • Silberner, J. (2006). WHO Backs Use of DDT Against Malaria. NPR.
  • U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2012). Elimination of Malaria in the United States (1947-1951).
  • U.S. National Park Service (2000). DDT Health And Safety Update.
  • United Nations Environment Programme (2015). Malaria and DDT.
  • Wassie, F., Spanoghe, P., Tessema, D. A., & Steurbaut, W. (2012). Exposure and health risk assessment of applicators to DDT during indoor residual spraying in malaria vector control program. Journal of Exposure Science and Environmental Epidemiology22(6), 549-558.
  • World Health Organization (2011). The use of DDT in malaria vector control.
  • Worldwatch Institute (2013). Malaria, Mosquitoes, and DDT.
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