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DDT to Return as Weapon Against Malaria, Experts Say

Brian Handwerk
for National Geographic News
August 1, 2006

DDT, a notorious symbol of environmental degradation, is poised to make a comeback.

International experts are touting the widely banned pesticide as a best bet to save millions of human lives threatened by malaria.

The disease, which kills mostly children and pregnant women, is largely spread by mosquitoes.

The overwhelming majority—90 percent—of malaria victims live in Africa, where the disease plagues both human and economic health (Africa facts, maps, more).

In May the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) endorsed the use of DDT for indoor antimalarial treatment in the developing world.

The World Health Organization (WHO) is expected to do the same in short order, according to a comprehensive report published in the current issue of the journal Nature Medicine.

The chemical's return is sure to raise some eyebrows, but people on the front lines of the malaria fight generally support the decision.

"It's about 20 years too late, but it's a good thing," said Don Roberts, a professor of tropical public heath at Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences in Bethesda, Maryland.

"I think it's going to make a huge difference in the health of people at risk of malaria."

From Miracle Pesticide to Notorious Polluter

DDT, or dichloro-diphenyl-trichloro-ethane, was once considered a miracle pesticide. Swiss chemist Paul Müller won the 1948 Nobel Prize in Medicine for discovering its bug-killing properties.

Some 675,000 tons (612,000 metric tons) of DDT were used in the U.S. between 1942 and 1972 (related photo: spraying DDT on a New York beach, 1945).

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