The World Health Organisation is urging powerful environmental groups not to oppose the use of the pesticide DDT to fight malaria in Africa, after a significant reversal of policy by the agency.
Arata Kochi, the director of the WHO's malaria department, issued his appeal to the green lobby after announcing that the agency now endorsed spraying the pesticide inside dwellings, especially mud and thatched huts, in mosquito-infested regions.
"I am here today to ask you, please help save African babies as you are helping to save the environment. African babies do not have a powerful movement… to champion their well-being," Mr Kochi said.He said he expected opposition, but prominent environmental groups contacted by The Sunday Telegraph yesterday were reluctant to be drawn into a row over the renewed use of the pesticide. The only group to speak out publicly so far has been the Pesticide Action Network (PAN), which questioned the effect of DDT on young children.
DDT is banned in the developed world and the WHO has discouraged its use in the Third World for three decades, but the organisation has now concluded that its life-saving benefits far outweigh the health and environmental risks.
"Indoor residual spraying with DDT and other insecticides will again play a major role in [WHO's] efforts to fight the disease." Mr Kochi said. "WHO will use every possible and safe method to control malaria."
Widespread DDT spraying proved remarkably successful in eradicating malaria in the United States, southern Europe, Russia and the Middle East after 1945. But an estimated 700,000 to 2.7 million people die of the disease each year, 75 per cent of them African children.
The Gates Foundation, the world's biggest philanthropic organisation, headed by the Microsoft founder Bill Gates and his wife, Melinda, has made malaria-eradication a priority and invested heavily in the search for an alternative to DDT. But some anti-malaria campaigners have criticised pouring funds into research when DDT is known to be so effective.
PAN campaigners claim that DDT can cause premature birth and developmental delays in children, and increase the risk of breast cancer. So far, the clearest adverse impact of the pesticide has been a steep decline in the number of bird species in areas where it has been used.
Friends of the Earth and the World Wildlife Fund both indicated that they would not be campaigning against the WHO position. The Telegraph