DDT row splits Kenya's scientific community
Kenyan scientists are embroiled in a deepening controversy over whether Kenya
should lift a ban on the pesticide DDT in a bid to reduce deaths from malaria.
A government-commissioned taskforce is poised to reveal its advice on whether
the pesticide should be reintroduced. Meanwhile sharp divisions are appearing
between two of the country's leading research organisations, the Kenya Medical
Research Institute (KEMRI) and the International Centre of Insect Physiology and
Ecology (ICIPE), both based in Nairobi.
Researchers from ICIPE and others argue that the health and environmental
risks of reintroducing DDT are considerable, and that the East African region as
a whole would suffer if the ban were lifted. But researchers from KEMRI, led by
director Davy Koech, argue that the pesticide is needed to combat malaria, which
kills 700 Kenyans a day.
"Anything that can reduce malaria deaths by 80 per cent should be given
another thought," says Koech. The disease, which is transmitted by
mosquitoes, currently accounts for up to half of all hospital admissions in
Kenya. KEMRI researcher John Githure argues that Kenya's decision to ban DDT in
1990 was taken hurriedly and without adequate data.
But opponents of lifting the ban - which was mooted earlier this year by the
minister for environment and natural resources, Newton Kulundu - point to the
fact that the pesticide is forbidden in many countries because of its harmful
effects on humans and the environment.
DDT is one of 12 chemicals targeted by the Stockholm Convention on Persistent
Organic Pollutants, a global treaty to limit the use of chemicals that that are
toxic to humans and wildlife, and that remain intact in the environment for long
periods. Most of these chemicals are subject to an immediate ban. But a
health-related exemption has been granted for DDT, which is still needed in many
countries to control malarial mosquitoes.
This is not a reason for lifting the ban, however, according to Onesmo K.
Ole-MoiYoi, director of research and partnerships at ICIPE. "The whole
debate on DDT should be looked at in the wider context of economics, environment
and Kenya's external markets for products such as horticultural and fish
products," he says. This is especially relevant now, he adds, at a time
when Europe is tightening its restrictions on insecticide residues on East
This point is reinforced by Deborah Nyarunda, administrative secretary of the
Uganda Fish Processors and Exporters Association (UFPEA), who argues that the
use of environmentally unfriendly chemicals has had a heavy toll on the fishing
industry from Lake Victoria, which is shared by Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania. This
was the reason for a European ban on imports of fish products from the region
between 1997 and 2000, she says.
Reintroduction of DDT in Kenya would require all countries in the region to
invest in equipment needed to monitor levels of the chemical in products
destined for export, says Clauda Maoha, deputy director of testing at the
Tanzania Bureau of Standards.
In any case, says Ole-MoiYoi, several environmentally friendly ways of
controlling malaria already exist. For example, Kenya will soon start producing
a type of bacteria - Bacillus thuringiensis - that kills mosquito larvae, and
which is currently imported from the United States. This could provide an
alternative effective malaria control strategy without such severe impacts on
the environment, he says.
Article by Henry Neondo,