Feature Story

Reducing malaria without DDT

April 6, 2017

Like everywhere in Kenya, malaria is the primary health issue in these communities, where between 75 and 100 children die from the disease every day. So far, conventional efforts to control the disease have not worked.
Like everywhere in Kenya, malaria is the primary health issue in these communities, where between 75 and 100 children die from the disease every day. So far, conventional efforts to control the disease have not worked.

Efforts to grow irrigated rice in Mwea, located about 100 kilometers northeast of Nairobi, Kenya, began under British colonial rule. Today more than 3,000 families live within the “Scheme”, of which half is devoted to rice cultivation. The paddies are submerged for at least six months out of the year, providing an ideal habitat for mosquitoes. One species of these mosquitoes — Anopheles arabiensis — is a vector for malaria.

Like everywhere in Kenya, malaria is one of the primary health issues in these communities, where between 75 and 100 children die from the disease every day. So far, conventional efforts to control malaria have not worked.

From the Panama Canal, to the rice fields of India and Africa, DDT has been the means by which the world held back the spread of Malaria.  DDT allowed the completion of the Panama Canal and helped to reduce the spread of Malaria in many Malaria prone regions of the world.  But this came at a high price.  Due to its persistent toxicity it poses a serious threat to human health and the environment.

“In the past DDT worked really well, but because of the significant, harmful risks that it poses to human health and the environment, and the DDT resistance that is now widespread in mosquito populations across Africa, Asia and South America, we strongly believe that integrated vector management (IVM) provides better long term, cost-effective and healthier solutions” states Dr. Clifford Mutero. Dr. Mutero works with African Insect Science for Food and Health (ICIPE) Kenya, and the University of Pretoria in South Africa as part of a GEF/UNEP/WHO-AFRO project. In total, the project supports 15 countries in combatting the disease without the use of DDT.

“There is no one-size-fits-all IVM solution that can address all aspects of the malaria problem at once. Different methods (chemical, biological and environmental) and tools need to be combined to control mosquitoes under ecological and socio-economic circumstances that are specific for each location,” says Dr. Mutero.

The rice paddies in the Mwea Irrigation Scheme are an ideal habitat for malaria carrying mosquitoes. Malaria is the main health issue in these communities, like everywhere in Kenya... Community awareness and participation combined with training on alternative integrated vector management strategies are resulting in a significant reduction of malaria cases.

For example, in Mwea, the project has introduced environmentally safe biopesticides, such as Bacillus thuringiensis israelensis (Bti). When introduced into mosquito-breeding habitats, the bacteria are able to kill the mosquito larvae. The project also encourages communities to use long-lasting bed nets, and to keep livestock, as certain species of mosquitoes prefer the blood of cattle to that of humans. Communities are also trained in growing dry-land crops to minimize the time that the paddies need to be wet.

Clifford reiterates that “community education, acceptance and participation are critical for ensuring successful implementation and sustainability of malaria control programmes.” The project aims to change people’s habits, which is nearly impossible if they do not really believe in the solutions. This is why we work closely with communities to help identify solutions that work for them.

In a changing climate, GEF-supported projects such as these are particularly important since a warming planet is resulting in new habitats for the malaria vector. Due to the high efficacy of DDT, there is a temptation towards using it in these new areas to quickly eliminate the spread of malaria.  This, coupled with growing resistance to the chemical alternatives to DDT, is creating a new demand for DDT.  The upcoming eighth Conference of the Parties to the Stockholm Convention will be discussing this issue and the GEF portfolio of DDT projects will be able to inform these discussions.  Since the implementation of this project in Africa, the GEF has funded additional projects in India to fast-track the development of alternatives to DDT in companies that currently produce the world’s supply of DDT for vector control.

 

This story is based on an article that first appeared in GEF's 'The Greenline' magazine.


The GEF is a catalyst for both governments and the private sector to help eliminate or reduce harmful chemicals and waste. The GEF is a financial mechanism to implement both the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants and The Minamata Convention on Mercury. It also plays an important, complementary role in achieving the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer.

The GEF has two key strategic objectives around chemicals and waste:

- Develop the enabling conditions, tools and environment for the sound management of harmful chemicals and wastes.
Reduce the prevalence of harmful chemicals and waste, and support the implementation of clean alternative technologies/substances.

A progress report on activities related to the Stockholm Convention will be presented at the upcoming Meetings of the COPs to the Basel, Rotterdam, and Stockholm Conventions, that will take place in Geneva, Switzerland, from April 24 - May 5.