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The UN is premature in trying to ban DDT for malaria control

BMJ 2012; 345 doi: (Published 10 October 2012) Cite this as: BMJ 2012;345:e6801
  1. Richard Tren, director, Africa Fighting Malaria, Washington, DC, USA,
  2. Richard Nchabi Kamwi, minister of health and social services, Republic of Namibia, Private Bag 13198, Windhoek, Namibia,
  3. Amir Attaran, associate professor, Faculty of Law and Faculty of Medicine, University of Ottawa, Ottawa, ON, Canada, K1N 6N5
  1. Correspondence to: A Attaran aattaran{at}

Despite the progress that has been made in malaria control and treatment, it remains a serious global health problem.1 Several malarial countries, including some that are striving to eliminate the disease, still rely on dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane (DDT) for vector control. It is therefore problematic that the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), without the consent of member states, and violating its own treaties, exerts relentless pressure to ban DDT globally.

Environmental groups have tried to ban DDT before, but in 2000 the Stockholm Treaty made an exception for DDT in disease vector control, which it deemed “acceptable.”2 Thus, the hard work of malaria endemic African countries and a campaign by scientists and physicians warning that hasty elimination would be devastating secured DDT a place in the malaria armamentarium.3

The World Health Organization endorses DDT, arguing that a premature shift to less effective or more costly alternatives will have a negative impact on disease burden.4 Currently, 19 countries reserve the right under the Stockholm Convention to use DDT, and it is actively used in at least seven countries for indoor spraying.

DDT is relatively cheap, highly effective, and long lasting, and often no other …

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