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Mosquito repellent crisis exposes rift between government agencies

  • Published at 11:39 pm October 12th, 2019
web-mosquito repellent
Stocks of mosquito repellents in medical stores have exhausted due to dengue menace Mehedi Hasan/Dhaka Tribune

Who is responsible for the mosquito repellent crisis?

When the dengue outbreak was in full swing three months ago, authorities were heavily criticized for not doing enough to cull the aedes mosquito population – which carry the dengue virus. In response, the city corporations blamed government agencies for restricting imports of repellents. The contentious situation was swiftly resolved after a High Court order, but thousands had been infected with dengue by then, and over a hundred had died.

The issue goes back to August 2015, when an office of the Department of Agricultural Extension (DAE) decided to restrict imports of finished or ready-for-use mosquito repellents. Two months later, the department issued a Statutory Regulatory Order (SRO) to which effectively banned imports of the latter and complicated the former.

The DAE’s Plant Protection Wing (PPW), which made the decision, imposed 10 conditions for registering the finished repellents, including a No Objection Certificate for the product sample from the PPW, a copy of the agreement between the manufacturer and local agent, detailed composition of formula, and valid membership certificate of the Bangladesh Crop Protection Association.

PPW Director AZM Sabbir Ibne Zahan said: “Yes, there was a restriction, but it has been withdrawn. Anyone with proper registration can import repellents, and anyone can apply for new registrations as well.”   

Prof Dr Kabirul Bashar, a prominent entomologist with the Department of Zoology at Jahangirnagar University, has been closely working with Dhaka North City Corporation (DNCC) MJayor Atikul Islam.

He said the prime minister’s intervention from abroad prompted the swift withdrawal of the restriction. 

He said: “The PPW’s job is to assess whether the product has any adverse impact on the environment or public health, not issue circulars and applications.”

Mayor and PPW clash

Earlier on September 28, Mayor Atiqul Islam lambasted the Plant Quarantine Wing of the DAE (which now deals with import of insecticides instead of the PPW) for obstructing the purchase of mosquito repellent. 

During a roundtable discussion, Mayor Atiqul said "People from all over the world are able to buy and use insecticides. If our citizens could buy insecticides from the market, they could have helped cull mosquitoes around their households. But a group with vested interests prevented this from happening.” 

He called for the prosecution of the official who issued the SRO.

In response, the PPW criticized both city corporations for failing to import repellents despite having the registration and license to do so. 

On September 29, PPW Director Sabbir sent a letter to the secretary of the Ministry of Agriculture, claiming they did not restrict import of mosquito repellents.  

The letter read: “The city corporations purchase registered pesticides through tender from various companies. As the situation demanded, both city corporations were issued registration and license to import directly. The license numbers for the DNCC and Dhaka South City Corporation (DSCC) are 1395 and 1396 respectively. Hence, there were no restrictions from our part.”

The director told Dhaka Tribune: “We gave registration of four products each to both the DSCC and the DNCC. They are the ones who failed to import. It is not our fault.  

“Whoever said we created a restriction has misinformed people. However, there was a restriction, but it has been withdrawn.” 

Could another delay lead to another outbreak?

The PPW’s Pesticide Technical Advisory Sub Committee will meet on October 31 to decide which applications for insect repellents will be approved.

Interested companies can apply for the registration for a maximum of three mosquito repellent products each between October 6 and October 20. There are no limits on bio-pesticides and microbial pesticide registration. 

PPW Director Sabbir said: ““Imports and applications for new product registration is open for all as it used to be before.”

However, Dr Kabirul Bashar, cautioned: “The meeting is on October 31. After the approvals, it will take some time to process things and bring the repellents. But the culex mosquito which carries the West Nile virus, will start breeding soon. The PPW is once again delaying matters for the worse.”