Africans are hailing a major shift in policy at the World Health Organization: A recommendation for the limited, indoor use of DDT to control malaria.

The fight against the disease, which is a leading cause of death in the developing world, has been hobbled by a long running campaign by environmentalists to ban the insecticide, a campaign that resulted in millions of needless deaths.

The South African health ministry welcomed the policy shift, noting that its return to the use of DDT had reduced malaria deaths from 64,868 in 2000 to 7,754 in 2005.

Health ministry spokesman Sibani Mngadi said that the “incidence of malaria had decreased from 15 per 10,000 people in 2000 to two per 10,000 in 2005 in malaria-affected areas.”

On Friday, the WHO released a statement that, nearly 30 years after phasing out the indoor spraying of DDT, gave a “clean bill of health” to the use of DDT. The organization is “now recommending the use of indoor residual spraying (IRS) not only in epidemic areas but also in areas with constant and high malaria transmission, including throughout Africa.”

“The scientific and programmatic evidence clearly supports this reassessment,” said Dr Anarfi Asamoa-Baah, WHO Assistant Director-General for HIV/AIDS, TB and Malaria. “Indoor residual spraying is useful to quickly reduce the number of infections caused by malaria-carrying mosquitoes. IRS has proven to be just as cost effective as other malaria prevention measures, and DDT presents no health risk when used properly.”

Read Paul Driessen’s commentary on the Africa Fighting Malaria site on the WHO announcement:

In Kenya alone, 34,000 young children a year perish from malaria, says Health Minister Charity Ngilu. Uganda suffers 100,000 deaths annually, notes Minister of Health Dr. Stephen Malinga — the equivalent of a jetliner with 275 people slamming into its Rwenzori Mountains every day.

Africa has 400 million cases of acute malaria per year; up to 2 million die. Countless millions are too sick to work or go to school, countless millions more must stay home to care for them, and meager family savings are exhausted on anti-malaria drugs.

The Wall Street Journal (subscription required) neatly summed up the issue yesterday:

Malaria is the number one killer of pregnant women and children in Africa and among the top killers in Asia and South America. It’s long been known that DDT is the cheapest and most effective way to contain the disease, which is spread by infected mosquitoes. But United Nations health agencies and others have for decades resisted employing DDT under pressure from anti-pesticide environmentalists. After tens of millions of preventable malarial deaths in these poor countries, it’s nice to see WHO finally come to its senses.

Click on the image above to vist Acton’s special Impact Malaria! Web page and to download the institute’s “Let Us Spray” print ad. The ad, which has run in Christianity Today and WORLD Magazine, is available for use in church bulletins, student newspapers and other publications — free of charge.