Malaria rising as DDT use falls, scientist says

WASHINGTON (Reuters) --- Malaria rates are climbing in poor countries that have stopped using the pesticide DDT to control the deadly disease, a tropical diseases expert warned on Tuesday.

Donald Roberts, speaking for a coalition that is promoting DDT as a means of controlling malaria in developing countries, said the chemical was safe if sprayed in small amounts inside homes to repel mosquitoes that carry the parasite which causes malaria.

For many poor nations, DDT is the only affordable way to try to reduce the 500 million malaria infections each year, Roberts said. About 2.5 million people die from malaria annually.

Roberts said malaria was on the rise in Brazil, throughout Africa and elsewhere. For example, malaria rates increased 12 times in Guyana from 1984 to 1991 after DDT spraying was reduced, he said.

But industrialized nations and environmental groups have pressured developing countries to stop using DDT. Many countries banned it in the 1970s after it was linked to environmental harm, including danger to birds and other wildlife.

A pollution reduction treaty expected to be finalized next month may effectively end DDT production, said Roberts, a professor of tropical public health at the Uniformed Services University of Health Sciences in Bethesda, Maryland.

Roberts is part of a group called the Save Children from Malaria Campaign, which includes the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a think tank, and other groups in Africa, India and England.

Environmental groups denied they were trying to immediately ban DDT.

"There is broad agreement that DDT should not be banned globally until we are absolutely convinced that the countries that are using it have affordable, effective alternatives," said Richard Liroff, director of the World Wildlife Fund's Alternatives to DDT Project.