Map showing decline in DDT use, 2000 to 2014

September 22, 2017

Animation prepared by: UN Environment Chemicals and Health Branch 2016, with the latest information available and may not reflect the current status.

DDT use declining toward oblivion: UNEP caption – Source: DDT Expert Group. Report of the Effectiveness Evaluation on DDT Pursuant to the Article 16 of the Stockholm Convention Animation prepared by: UN Environment Chemicals and Health Branch 2016, with the latest information available and may not reflect the current status.

More than 180 nations signed the Persistent Organic Pollutants Treaty (POPs), often called the Stockholm Convention. The treaty pledges nations to voluntarily work to rid the planet of dangerous and toxic organic chemicals.

DDT is named in negotiation documents as one of the Dirty Dozen most toxic pollutants; however, because there was no alternative that performed exactly like DDT, the nations made a special addendum to the treaty to allow any nation to use DDT to fight disease vectors (insects that carry disease). The World Health Organization tracks use of DDT.

In 2001, 43 nations said they thought DDT would be useful. But by 2015, 33 of those nations gave up DDT, due to insects developing resistance and immunity.

India, the sole remaining nation where manufacture of DDT occurs, plans to stop all DDT production by 2020. India discovered that more DDT makes the insect pests more resistant faster, instead of beating disease carriers.

This map from the UN Environmental Program shows declining use of DDT, 2000 to 2014.

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DDT use plunged to just 10 nations in 2015; gone by 2020?

April 13, 2016

UN photo showing a mother and child protected from mosquito-borne disease by a bednet, the chief tool used in 2015 to prevent malaria transmission in endemic areas.

UN photo showing a mother and child protected from mosquito-borne disease by a bednet, the chief tool used in 2015 to prevent malaria transmission in endemic areas.

Just ten nations still used DDT in 2015, putting the planet on target to phase out all DDT use by 2020.

World Malaria Report 2015, published by the World Health Organization (WHO) in early December, notes those nations reporting that they use DDT in public health fights against disease. Under the Persistent Organic Pollutants Treaty, any nation may use DDT simply by notifying WHO.  Signatories of the treaty usually agree to stop all use of DDT once current use ends. Since 2003, most nations using it found DDT simply didn’t work well enough to continue use it to fight malaria or any other vector-borne diseases.

In the 2015 Report, Appendix 2A lists methods of vector control used in nations (“vector” being the fancy word for carrier of the disease, or mosquitoes in the case of malaria).  (See pages 234 to 237 of the .pdf.)

Nations in which DDT is used to fight malaria
World Malaria Report 2015 Appendix 2A

  1. Botswana
  2. Democratic Republic of the Congo
  3. Gambia
  4. Mozambique
  5. Namibia
  6. South Africa
  7. Swaziland
  8. Zambia
  9. Zimbabwe
  10. India

Ten nations total, nine in Africa, plus India.

Despite political calls to “bring back” DDT as a means of fighting mosquitoes that carry the Zika virus, no reports show any nation notified WHO it would do so. Most nations afflicted by Zika have been earlier afflicted by other diseases carried by the same species of mosquito, Aedes aegypti.  This species carries dengue fever, yellow fever and chikungunya, and perhaps others. Consequently, most of these nations have already tried DDT against the Zika carriers, and abandoned the projects when hoped-for results did not occur.

Every mosquito on Earth in 2016 carries at least a few of the alleles that make them resistant to, or even immune to DDT. DDT use also pushes mosquito populations to develop paths that make them quickly resistant to other pesticides. WHO guidelines urge public health officials never to use just one pesticide, but instead rotate among a dozen approved for vector use, in order to prevent the bugs from developing resistance. Resistance to pesticides remains one of the chief obstacles to eliminating disease, and a growing obstacle.

India is the world’s only known maker of DDT in 2015, and the heaviest user, using more of the pesticide than all other nations combined. Due to decreasing effectiveness of DDT as mosquito resistance to to it spreads and grows stronger, malaria has proliferated in India despite increased DDT application. In 2015, India announced to WHO it would suspend manufacture and use of DDT by 2020.

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In black, the ten nations who used DDT in 2016, nine in Africa, and India. 43 nations used DDT in 2001. India pledges to stop manufacturing DDT by 2020. Map by Ed Darrell, using Mapchart.net

In black, the ten nations who used DDT in 2016, nine in Africa, and India. 43 nations used DDT in 2001. India pledges to stop manufacturing DDT by 2020. Map by Ed Darrell, using Mapchart.net

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Still no ban on DDT: Treaty monitors allow DDT use to continue

December 16, 2012

Real news on a topic like DDT takes a while to filter into the public sphere, especially with interest groups, lobbyists and Astro-Turf groups working hard to fuzz up the messages.

News from the DDT Expert Group of the Conference of the Parties to the Stockholm Convention was posted recently at the Stockholm Convention website — the meeting was held in early December in Geneva, Switzerland.

Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pol...

Logo of the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs Treaty) Wikipedia image

In the stuffy talk of international relations, the Stockholm Convention in this case refers to a treaty put into effect in 2001, sometimes known as the Persistent Organic Pollutants Treaty (POPs).  Now with more than 152 signatory nations and 178 entities offering some sort of ratification (not the U.S., sadly), the treaty urges control of chemicals that do not quickly break down once released into the environment, and which often end up as pollutants.  In setting up the agreement, there was a list of a dozen particularly nasty chemicals branded the “Dirty Dozen” particularly targeted for control due to their perniciousness — DDT was one of that group.

DDT can still play a role in fighting some insect-carried diseases, like malaria.  Since the treaty was worked out through the UN’s health arm, the World Health Organization (WHO), it holds a special reservation for DDT, keeping DDT available for use to fight disease.   Six years ago WHO developed a group to monitor DDT specifically, looking at whether it is still needed or whether its special provisions should be dropped.  The DDT Expert Group meets every two years.

Here’s the press release on the most recent meeting:

Stockholm Convention continues to allow DDT use for disease vector control

Fourth meeting of the DDT Expert Group assesses continued need for DDT, 3–5 December 2012, Geneva

Mosqutio larvae, image from WHO

Mosqutio larvae, WHO image

The Conference of the Parties to the Stockholm Convention, under the guidance of the World Health Organization (WHO), allows the use of the insecticide DDT in disease vector control to protect public health.

Mosquito larvae

The Stockholm Convention lists dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane, better known at DDT, in its Annex B to restrict its production and use except for Parties that have notified the Secretariat of their intention to produce and /or use it for disease vector control. With the goal of reducing and ultimately eliminating the use of DDT, the Convention requires that the Conference of the Parties shall encourage each Party using DDT to develop and implement an action plan as part of the implementation plan of its obligation of the Convention.

At its fifth meeting held in April 2011, the Conference of the Parties to the Convention concluded that “countries that are relying on DDT for disease vector control may need to continue such use until locally appropriate and cost-effective alternatives are available for a sustainable transition away from DDT.” It also decided to evaluate the continued need for DDT for disease vector control at the sixth meeting of the Conference of the Parties “with the objective of accelerating the identification and development of locally appropriate cost-effective and safe alternatives.”

The DDT Expert Group was established in 2006 by the Conference of the Parties. The Group is mandated to assess, every two years, in consultation with the World Health Organization, the available scientific, technical, environmental and economic information related to production and use of DDT for consideration by the Conference of the Parties to the Stockholm Convention in its evaluation of continued need for DDT for disease vector control.

The fourth meeting of the DDT Expert Group reviewed as part of this ongoing assessment:

  1. Insecticide resistance (DDT and alternatives)
  2. New alternative products, including the work of the Persistent Organic Pollutants Review Committee
  3. Transition from DDT in disease vector control
  4. Decision support tool for vector control.

The DDT expert group recognized that there is a continued need for DDT in specific settings for disease vector control where effective or safer alternatives are still lacking. It recommended that the use of DDT in Indoor Residual Spray should be limited only to the most appropriate situations based on operational feasibility, epidemiological impact of disease transmission, entomological data and insecticide resistance management. It also recommended that countries should undertake further research and implementation of non-chemical methods and strategies for disease vector control to supplement reduced reliance on DDT.

The findings of the DDT Expert Group’s will be presented at the sixth meeting of the Conference of the Parties, being held back-to-back with the meetings of the conferences of the parties to the Rotterdam and Basel conventions, from 28 April to 11 May 2013, in Geneva.

Nothing too exciting.  Environmentalists should note DDT is still available for use, where need is great.  Use should be carefully controlled.  Pro-DDT propagandists should note, but won’t, that there is no ban on DDT yet, and that DDT is still available to fight malaria, wherever health workers make a determination it can work.  If anyone is really paying attention, this is one more complete and total refutation of the DDT Ban Hoax.

Rachel Carson’s ghost expresses concern that there is not yet a safe substitute for DDT to fight malaria, but is gratified that disease fighters and serious scientists now follow the concepts of safe chemical use she urged in 1962.

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WHO, DDT and the Persistent Organic Pesticides Treaty: Historic view from the inside

March 19, 2011

Rollback Malaria (RBM) was established in 1998 in part to reinvigorate the worldwide fight against malaria, and in part to facilitate the negotiations for what became the Stockholm Convention, the Persistent Organic Pesticides Treaty of 2001.

RBM World Malaria Day 2011

That’s about the time the ungodly assault on WHO and Rachel Carson started, by hysterical DDT advocates.  We now know that Roger Bate, Richard Tren, Donald Roberts and their comrades in pens are stuck in that 1998 fight.

Here’s a short account, from RBM, about just what happened:

The DDT Controversy

In 1999 the RBM Secretariat was called upon to help resolve a controversy emerging from intergovernmental negotiations to establish an international environmental treaty. At the centre of this controversy was DDT, former hero of the malaria eradication campaign and current totemic villain of the environmental movement. The treaty being negotiated was intended to eliminate the production and use of twelve persistent organic pollutants. DDT, still used for malaria control in over 20 countries, was included among ‘the dirty dozen’ chemicals slated for elimination, eliciting a strong reaction from public health activists and malaria specialists who claimed that its elimination would result in unacceptable increases in malaria morbidity and mortality. Environmental specialists and others claimed that environmentally friendly alternatives to DDT, although more expensive, could easily be deployed to guard against such a negative impact.

The controversy over the role of DDT in malaria vector control and the dangers posed to the environment escalated and attracted considerable media attention. The controversy was perpetuated in part because of a relatively weak evidence base on the human toxicity of DDT, the cost-effectiveness of proposed alternatives, and the probable impact of public health use of DDT (compared to agricultural use) on the environment. Resolution was also hampered by the relative lack of public health expertise among the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee delegates, who were primarily active in the fields of foreign and environmental policy.

The challenges presented to the RBM Secretariat in responding to the controversy were many and varied. They included: evaluation of the evidence base and the drafting of policy guidance (a WHO normative role); a major communications effort; and the establishment of new cross-sectoral partnerships and working relationships. In the process, RBM formed new and highly effective ‘partnerships’ or ‘working relations’ with the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), the US Environmental Protection Agency, the environmental policy apparatus of core RBM partners, as well as a variety of health and environmental NGOs. RBM conducted country and informal expert consultations and convened and chaired a special working group on DDT which was able to establish a position on the use of the insecticide in public health and the process for evaluating and moving to alternatives. The weight of WHO’s technical authority contributed greatly toward establishing the credibility of the working group. Information about the treaty negotiations and the WHO position on DDT was disseminated to health specialists via the WHO regional networks and to treaty focal points via UNEP.

The RBM Secretariat led the WHO delegation to all meetings of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee and prepared information and media events for each, supporting the participation of health/malaria specialists from a number of countries. The RBM Secretariat also served as the media focal point on malaria and DDT and provided interviews and information to all major media, as well as presentations to professional meetings and interest groups.

RBM’s objectives throughout this process were:

  • to establish consensus on the present and future role of DDT and alternatives in malaria control;
  • to encourage greater involvement of public health specialists in country-level discussions about the treaty and in country delegations to the negotiating sessions;
  • to provide information to negotiators and others that would reduce controversy and result in a win-win situation for public health and the environment (in which the longer term goal of DDT elimination is achieved through strengthened, more robust malaria control);
  • to benefit from the media attention to inform the public about malaria; and
  • to mobilize resources to support malaria control from outside the health sector.

All of these objectives have been met and the final treaty, known as the ‘Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants’ provides for the continued public health use of DDT and international assistance for the development and implementation of alternatives.

Resources to support the initial work of the RBM Secretariat were provided by environmental agencies/offices. In addition, the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) and the WHO Regional Office for the Americas (AMRO) and most recently the WHO Regional Office for Africa (AFRO) have been awarded project development grants from the Global Environment Facility (GEF) to promote regional efforts to strengthen malaria control and reduce reliance on DDT.

From Final Report of the External Evaluation of RBM, Roll Back Malaria to Date, Chapter 2, page 15 (circa 2001).


Annals of DDT: 880,000 died from malaria in 2008

August 26, 2010

Once upon a time I easily found a chart from the World Health Organization (WHO) which provided a year-by-year tally of malaria deaths, worldwide, from the 1940s to the present.

Of course, now that I need that chart to note that malaria deaths are much lower today than they were when DDT was overused generally and sometimes misused in the fight against malaria, I can’t find it.  So, we’ll take the figures where we can find them.

In 2008, worldwide there were over 880,000 deaths from malaria.  This is significantly lower than the usual claim of “millions of deaths each year.”  We can find this figure in a document from the Global Environmental Facility (GEF), the organization that organizes the work of 182 nations to work for solutions to environmental problems, including fighting malaria, in a report on the 2009 meeting of the Stockholm Convention focused on fighting malaria,  “Countries move toward more sustainable ways to roll back malaria.”

However concern over DDT is matched by concern over the global malaria burden in which close to 250 million cases a year result in over 880 000 deaths. Thus any reduction in the use of DDT or other residual pesticides must ensure the level of transmission interruption is, at least, maintained.

Numbers here may be estimates not updated from current-year records.  The figure “over 880,000 deaths” looks and sounds awfully close to numbers reported in 2006, as you can see in this report from the Kaiser Family Foundation on U.S. global health policies:

Number of Annual Malaria Cases Worldwide Decreases, Disease Still Remains a Challenge, WHO’s World Malaria Report 2008 Says

Thursday, September 18, 2008

There were about 247 million malaria cases worldwide in 2006, according to the World Malaria Report 2008, which was released by the World Health Organization on Thursday, Reuters reports (MacInnis, Reuters, 9/18). According to the report, 3.3 billion people worldwide were at risk for malaria in 2006, and the disease remains a major burden among children younger than age five and in many African countries (AFP/Google.com, 9/18).

The report included reduced estimates of the global malaria burden that were calculated with new surveillance measures for non-African countries. The estimate of 247 million malaria cases is lower than the estimated 350 million to 500 million annual malaria cases reported in WHO’s World Malaria Report 2005. The new report estimated there were 881,000 malaria deaths in 2006, down from the previous estimate of one million deaths. The reduced figures are the result of new calculation methods, and it is unknown whether malaria cases and deaths actually declined from 2004 to 2006, WHO said (Reuters, 9/18). Although malaria control efforts have helped reduce the global malaria burden, most malaria-endemic countries are not meeting WHO targets for malaria control, the report said, noting that there is “no evidence yet to show that malaria elimination can be achieved and maintained in areas that currently have high transmission” (Bennett/Doherty, Bloomberg, 9/18).

WHO attributed the revised malaria estimates to new assessment measures in Asia, where data used for the 2005 report had not been updated for 40 years. According to Mac Otten — coordinator of surveillance, monitoring and evaluation at WHO’s Global Malaria Program — factors such as deforestation, urbanization and malaria control efforts have affected malaria estimates in Asia (Blue, Time, 9/17). Cambodia, Laos, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam all reported a decline in malaria deaths in 2006 (Bloomberg, 9/18).

WHO’s surveillance methods in Africa, which estimate malaria prevalence by using climate data and sample surveys, have remained the same since the 2005 report, the report said (Reuters, 9/18). According to the report, 45 of the 109 malaria-endemic countries worldwide are in Africa, and more than half of the continent’s malaria cases in 2006 occurred in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Kenya, Nigeria and Tanzania (AFP/Google.com, 9/18). The report noted that malaria interventions have helped reduce malaria cases and deaths by more than 50% in Eritrea, Rwanda, Sao Tome and Principe, and the Tanzanian island of Zanzibar (Time, 9/17).The report found that about 40% of people at risk for malaria in Africa had access to insecticide-treated nets last year, compared with 3% in 2001 (Bloomberg, 9/18). The report also found that the number of ITNs distributed to national malaria control programs was enough to cover 26% of people in 37 African countries but that most African countries did not meet WHO’s target of 80% coverage for the four main malaria treatments: ITNs, artemisinin-based combination therapies, indoor-insecticide spraying programs and treatment for pregnant women (AFP/Google.com, 9/18).

Note also that this total of 880,000 is more than the previously reported 863,000.  Hmmm.


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