Financial Times, September 29 2005
Commercial motive hinted at in restrictions on DDT
Restrictions on the use of the insecticide DDT to combat malaria have often been attacked by a group of campaigners who say the limitations are based on unsound science and cost lives in the developing world.
Now those campaigners have told a US Senate committee that lobbying for the restrictions may be commercially motivated.
DDT was once widely used on farms, but its use in agriculture dropped sharply from the 1970s because of concerns about its effect on the food chain, particularly on birds of prey. More recently, with malaria spreading in developing countries, some such as South Africa have sprayed DDT indoors to kill mosquitoes.
But they face obstacles. The World Health Organisation (WHO) prefers using bed nets to DDT. And the European Union has warned Uganda about the risks to its food exports if it uses DDT.
"While the EU fully acknowledges the urgent need to control malaria in Uganda, we are concerned about the impact the use of DDT might have on the country's exports of food products to the EU," the European Commission's Uganda delegation said last year.
In congressional testimony, Richard Tren of the Africa Fighting Malaria campaign said lobbying for restrictions might have commercial motives. Mr Tren cited an email to health academics from Gerhard Hesse, business manager for "vector control" - eliminating carriers of disease - for Bayer CropScience, cautioning against DDT.
Bayer manufactures alternative insecticides to DDT, which are generally more expensive. In the email, seen by the FT, Mr Hesse said: "We fully support EU to ban sic imports of agricultural products coming from countries using DDT." He said such a ban reflected the danger of DDT leaking into the agricultural system and ending up as residues in food.
But Mr Hesse, who sits on the partnership board of the WHO's "Roll Back Malaria" coalition, also admits: "DDT use is for us a commercial threat."
He argues that the commercial threat is not dramatic because of DDT's limited use, saying it is "mainly a public image threat".
Mr Tren told the Senate committee: "We fear that commercial entities such as Bayer . . . are using bad science and fear about DDT in order to advance their own particular interests."
In a statement, Bayer said Mr Hesse meant to refer purely to DDT for crop use. "Bayer CropScience rejects any interpretation that the company would support the EU move to ban imports of agricultural products coming from countries using DDT for company specific competitive reasons," it said.
"Gerhard Hesse's statement in this respect was written in a way which might lead to wrong conclusions. It does not reflect the actual opinion of Mr Hesse and of Bayer CropScience."
The EU said it did not ban food imports from countries using DDT but required them to comply with maximum residue limits.
Sept. 28, 2005
Africa Fighting Malaria: German Commercial Interests Kill African Children; Opposition to DDT Increases Malaria in Uganda
WASHINGTON -- Ninety-three percent of Uganda's population is at risk from malaria, with millions of cases and thousands of deaths annually. But senior management within German chemical giant Bayer Crop Sciences is putting commercial profit above the lives of Uganda's children, by denying them use of the life-saving insecticide DDT, according to Africa Fighting Malaria.
"It's utterly disgraceful for a powerful company like Bayer not only to put commercial interests above human life, but also to lie in the process," says Richard Tren, South African director of Africa Fighting Malaria, a health advocacy group. Tren testifies on DDT to the U.S. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee (EPW) hearing today.
Many poor countries with malaria use DDT to control the mosquitoes that carry the parasites. DDT is sprayed in tiny amounts on the inside walls of dwellings, in carefully controlled programs that save countless thousands of lives, mainly children, every year.
But Bayer sees things differently. "We fully support (the EU's decision) to ban imports of agricultural products coming from countries using DDT," Bayer vector control manager Gerhard Hesse proudly proclaimed in an email exchange with malaria scientists. Admitting that "DDT use is for us a commercial threat," Dr. Hesse went on to expound a series of half-truths and outright falsehoods, mostly denigrating the use of DDT.
Bayer Crop Sciences reported sales of over US$7 billion in 2004, and Bayer's Dr. Hesse sits on the board of the World Health Organization's Roll Back Malaria (RBM) coalition -- as do other commercial contractors to USAID. It has been rumored that these potentially conflicting interests are undermining RBM, which was charged in 1998 with halving malaria rates by 2010. Instead, RBM has overseen an increase in disease and death rates, due in part to policies that shun DDT. RBM has been characterized as "a failing public health program" by the leading British Medical Journal.
Until now, Uganda has bowed to outside pressure. However, Ugandan Health Minister Jim Muhwezi is determined to use DDT. Speaking at a World Malaria Day commemoration in April 2005, Muhwezi noted that "DDT has been proven, over and over again, to be the most effective and least expensive method of fighting malaria."
Many malarial countries rely on international aid to fund their programs and are therefore forced to adopt policies that aid agencies and the European Union prefer, but which are not necessarily what the countries need.
Britain's leading malaria specialist, Professor Chris Curtis of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, says of the threatened EU ban: "We are now informed that the ban is supported by a multi-national insecticide manufacturer. Such a ban would presumably be in the interests of the manufacturer, who could expect increased sales of its insecticides. However, it would not be in the interests of Ugandans, who wish to protect as many people as possible from malaria with the limited funding available for vector control."
Don Roberts, professor of tropical public health at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, said "there is overwhelming evidence that malarious countries are being pressed by rich countries not to use DDT. It is a chilling thought that rich and powerful countries are willing to trade the lives of poor rural people for reasons that have no basis in science."