Intended for healthcare professionals

Rapid response to:

Education And Debate Ethical debate

Doctoring malaria, badly: the global campaign to ban DDTDDT for malaria control should not be bannedCommentary: Reduction and elimination of DDT should proceed slowly

BMJ 2000; 321 doi: (Published 02 December 2000) Cite this as: BMJ 2000;321:1403

Rapid Response:

DDT Must Be Bad

If Public Health were the sole concern, then DDT should be banned and
diagnoses for malaria, polio, cholera, and HIV, critically reviewed. But
Public Health does not stand alone, isolated from complex political and
economic issues.

DDT, BHC, lead and arsenic compounds, ie., the persistent pesticides
used since the late 19th century, are politically and economically
important. During legislation of registration, use, and label laws during
the 1950s (U.S.), these chemicals were called "Economic Poisons".

Medical science rationalizes the use of these chemicals for the needs
of government and industry.

Public Health policy-making avoids the most obvious science regarding
DDT and disease diagnoses, such as the relationships between persistent
pesticides and polio:

Linear Correlation: Polio epidemics correlate with persistent
pesticide production and exposure. Nigeria's DDT programs have flourished
and pesticide import/usage regulations are weak.

In many ways contemporary Nigeria is similar to a historical period
of the U.S. where polio and persistent pesticides correlate closely
throughout a complex curve, from 1940 to 1972. See

Physiology: The physiology of acute DDT poisoning cannot be found
easily or at all in a U.S. textbook, however, one such study done in
Germany, 1949, by Daniel Dresden, does describe the physiology of DDT
poisoning as disintegration of the anterior horn. That is a classical
polio physiology.

1950-1951, USDA and Swiss scientists discovered that calves, suckling
cows fed DDT, were paralyzed with neurological disease. This was at the
apex of the great U.S. epidemic of human infantile paralysis (polio). So
why hasn't that been a major discussion?

Geographic Correlation: Polio occurs during historical episodes and
in regions of mass poisoning.

Virology: Historically, the poliovirus was defined as a pathogen,
while Public Health avoided polio's environmental toxicology. Most, if
not all, of the lab studies that defined this virus, employed badly
filtered tissue samples, or completely unfiltered samples.

Some leading polio authorities in virology have declared, up to the
era of Salk's polio vaccine, that the laboratory studies of poliovirus
were artifice, ie., not having much similarity to the clinical disease.

Polio, cholera, and HIV, together, is the practice of avoiding
toxicology. It seems reasonable that influential polluting industries,
the ones that pay the bills, would prefer microbiological diagnoses.

In Nigeria, polio, malaria, HIV, and cholera prevail, but few are
paid to look at the obvious problems, the unrestricted, ignorant and
careless use of pesticides and industrial chemicals. Nigeria is a major
petroleum economy, 7th in the world in exports (2001). 80% of government
income comes from petrochemical industry. Chemically polluted water
supplies run through highly populated shantytowns. Civil war continues
amongst millions of refugee peasants. The median age in Nigeria is 18,
average lifespan from birth, 51 years.

To blame these problems on microbes and to structure public health
policy thereby, is ancient practice, and on the level of the medical
clinician, myopic. Hopefully, a better way will emerge.


Competing interests:
None declared

Competing interests: No competing interests

11 August 2004
Jim West
NoSpray Coalition / ARAS