First published in Nation on Sunday 21 Dec. 2008
7,000 to save tobacco
..DDT can eradicate Malaria-WHO
by Kondwani Munthali
Top civil servant in the Ministry of Health Chris Kang’ombe on Wednesday admitted that the country’s reliance on tobacco has affected the fights against malaria as there are resistance to the adoption of use of Dichloro-Diphenyl-Trichloroethane (DDT) spraying which is proven to eradicate the fatal disease.
DDT was banned due to environmental and toxic effects, but the World Health Organisation has recognised that spraying the insecticide can eradicate malaria, as since the ban there has been increase in the incidents of malaria in South America and Africa.
“I would say yes it is a difficult choice, either we forgo all the foreign exchange that the country depends on tobacco or we accept to continue sacrificing 7,000 lives that we lose due to malaria,” Kang’ombe said.
He said the Ministry had started the process of consultations and it was still optimistic that the officials in the Ministry of Agriculture which are concerned that the country’s green gold could not be bought if traces of DDT are found in the leaf are convinced.
Malawi according to Kang’ombe experiences at least six million incidents of malaria, resulting in 40 percent of the country’s health budget being taken up by the fight against the disease which can easily be eradicated.
“We are trying to make the economic argument of matter. You reduce or eradicate malaria, you have a healthy person, reduced morbidity and mortality which have both huge costs on the public resources,” said Kang’ombe.
Director of Preventive Health Storns Kabuluzi said he believes the use of DDT is a matter of time as there is enough evidence from the current indoor residue spraying using ICON10CN in Nkhotakota has shown effectiveness in preventing malaria.
“We are trying to find way of accommodating the economic and agricultural needs. The problem that the agriculture people are expressing is that some people use their own homes to cure tobacco and we will be spraying the same homes. May be we can try to advocate for methods that are differentiate the two,” said Dr. Kabuluzi.
WHO Malawi officer-in-charge Richard Banda said the quantities that could be used for spraying DDT are very small as compared with the use of the same chemical in agriculture.
“I believe there will be a time that we should be able to use it as the quantities cannot have any major impact on the agricultural sector as feared,” said Banda.
Malawi joined the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) commemoration of malaria this week as part of efforts to raise awareness on the diseases which has claimed 20 million children since the banning of DDT.
Statistics indicate that an average 350,000 people reported at the country’s health facilitates with malaria while 21 million were recorded sick in the SADC region resulting in 300,000 deaths.
“Malaria illness causes death, inhibits tourism and affects external investment. Malaria prevents children from attending school. Women are four times likely to suffer from malaria during pregnancy resulting in low birth weight, miscarriages and still briths,” said Kang’ombe pleading with Malawians to use free nets government has been distributing to prevent malaria.
Tobacco has been a major challenge to implementing public health programmes in the country including the smoking controls and now malaria as Government has argued over its economic importance.
However public health specialists argue that the benefits of public health programmes will reduce health bills, poverty induced by diseases and deaths and also have economically productive citizenry.