Global Status of DDT and Its Alternatives for Use in Vector Control to Prevent Disease

Article excerpt

OBJECTIVE: I review the status of dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane (DDT), used for disease vector control, along with current evidence on its benefits and risks in relation to the available alternatives.

DATA SOURCES AND EXTRACTION: Contemporary data on DDT use were largely obtained from questionnaires and reports. I also conducted a Scopus search to retrieve published articles.

DATA SYNTHESIS: DDT has been recommended as part of the arsenal of insecticides available for indoor residual spraying until suitable alternatives are available. Approximately 14 countries use DDT for disease control, and several countries are preparing to reintroduce DDT. The effectiveness of DDT depends on local settings and merits close consideration in relation to the alternatives. Concerns about the continued use of DDT are fueled by recent reports of high levels of human exposure associated with indoor spraying amid accumulating evidence on chronic health effects. There are signs that more malaria vectors are becoming resistant to the toxic action of DDT, and that resistance is spreading to new countries. A comprehensive cost assessment of DDT versus its alternatives that takes side effects into account is missing. Effective chemical methods are available as immediate alternatives to DDT, but the choice of insecticide class is limited, and in certain areas the development of resistance is undermining the efficacy of insecticidal tools. New insecticides are not expected in the short term. Nonchemical methods are potentially important, but their effectiveness at program level needs urgent study.

CONCLUSIONS: To reduce reliance on DDT, support is needed for integrated and multipartner strategies of vector control and for the continued development of new technologies. Integrated vector management provides a framework for developing and implementing effective technologies and strategies as sustainable alternatives to reliance on DDT.

KEY WORDS: DDT, indoor residual spraying, integrated vector management, malaria, persistent organic pollutants, vector control. Environ Health Perspect 117:1656-1663 (2009). doi:10.1289/ehp.0900785 available via [Online 29 May 2009]


The Stockholm Convention seeks the elimination of 12 chemicals or classes of chemicals, one of which is dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane (DDT) [United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) 2002]. DDT is used in indoor spraying for control of vectors of malaria and visceral leishmaniasis. In negotiations that led to the treaty, there was concern that a sudden ban on DDT use could adversely affect the malaria burden. Thus, DDT was permitted to be produced and used, for the purpose of controlling disease vectors in accordance with recommendations and guidelines of the World Health Organization (WHO) and when locally safe, effective, and affordable alternatives are not available (WHO 2007a). Ironically, DDT use in Africa has increased since the Stockholm Convention came into effect (Manga L, personal communication).

Malaria is a complex parasitic disease confined mostly to tropical areas and transmitted by mosquitoes of the genus Anopheles. There are an estimated 250 million clinical cases of malaria, causing nearly a million deaths, mostly of children < 5 years of age and mostly in sub-Saharan Africa (WHO 2008b). Malaria-endemic countries are faced with a high cost of prevention and treatment of the disease.

Vector control is an essential component of malaria control programs. The WHO has reaffirmed the importance of vector control through indoor residual spraying (IRS) as one of the primary interventions for reducing or interrupting malaria transmission in countries in both stable and unstable transmission zones. Twelve insecticides have been recommended for IRS, including DDT. The course of action promoted by the WHO has been to retain DDT as part of the arsenal of insecticides available for IRS globally, to be able to manage insecticide resistance until suitable alternatives are available (WHO 2007a). …