Cubans sell malaria chemicals in Africa despite U.N. concerns
A Cuban company is amping up sales of its mosquito larvicides to fight malaria in Africa, despite concerns raised by United Nations experts who say that such products have limited uses and are not the most cost-effective methods of attacking the disease.
MIAMI — A Cuban company is amping up sales of its mosquito larvicides to fight malaria in Africa, despite concerns raised by United Nations experts who say that such products have limited uses and are not the most cost-effective methods of attacking the disease.
Salesmen for the state-owned company, Labiofam, are allegedly pushing their products by playing on the warm bilateral relations established when Cuba assisted many newly independent African nations in the 1970s.
Labiofam's webpage says its larvicide Griselesf is used in anti-malaria programs in Ghana, Angola, Gambia, Tanzania, Nigeria, Burkina Faso, Equatorial Guinea and Zambia. Malaria kills an estimated 600,000 people in the region each year.
Ghana alone signed a $74 million, two-year deal for a single larvicide program, a Labiofam representative in the West African nation, Hafez Adam Taher, was quoted as saying in a British newspaper report earlier this year.
But an April report by the World Health Organization cautioned about the use of larvicides to control malaria in sub-Saharan Africa.
Biological or chemical larvicides kill the larvae of mosquitoes that transmit diseases such as malaria and dengue.
Larvicides should be used "only in areas where the breeding sites are few, fixed and findable" — rare in Africa — and there are other, more cost-effective ways of fighting malaria, said the report by WHO, which is part of the United Nations.
The most cost-effective ways of fighting malaria in rural Africa are insecticide-treated bed nets, spot sprays, drugs and diagnostics, the report added. Larvicides might be more effective in urban areas, but "more good-quality evidence is needed to support this view."
The report "is not saying (larvicides) are conclusively inefficient, but that we have not seen strong evidence to support its use," said Dr. Rainier Escalada, a malaria expert at the Pan American Health Organization, which runs as WHO's branch in Latin America.
The Pesticide Evaluation Scheme run by WHO has not checked the effectiveness of larvicides sent by Cuba, said Dr. Raman Velayudhan, a dengue expert at WHO headquarters in Geneva.
Malaria experts in Africa prompted WHO to issue its report because of concerns that Cuba's growing larvicide sales in the region are diverting funds away from better malaria controls, said one U.N. official in Geneva.
Taher argued that larvicides "can become a strategic intervention in the fight against malaria . No single thing can do it. If you want to tackle malaria seriously, you have to go to the roots," Britain's Financial Times reported.