The technology of insecticide treated nets (ITNs) to prevent malaria has been around for over three decades. ITNs have evolved from a process of semi-annual soaking and impregnating nets with a safe insecticide at the household or community level to long lasting insecticide-treated nets (LLINs) where the insecticide is integrated into the nets during the manufacturing process. The challenge has always been guaranteeing enough currently treated nets to cover the population and impede malaria transmission.
Recently Rwanda announced its intentions to establish LLIN manufacturing in-country. The Ministry of Trade and Industry has begun screening of bidders. The government’s main rationale for this move is projected the need for a large and continuous supply of LLINs in the country through 2020, “making it a prudent to set up a production plant in the country.” When this information was shared with our malaria/tropical health update mailing list a number of readers expressed interest and hope that their own governments would follow suit. This post provides some background for readers to consider.
The idea of locally made mosquito nets is not new. MacCormack and Snow documented that, “95% of people were already sleeping under locally-made nets,” in The Gambia in the 1980s. Likewise in Burkina Faso it was common to find nets made from imported materials or local cotton that were sewn by local tailors.
The idea of drawing on the combination of local or regional textile and chemical industries to produce an ITN kit containing both net and approved insecticide for home/community soaking was tested in several countries by the USAID sponsored NetMark project between 1999–2009. Although the project made ITNs available at reduced prices and resulted in gains in awareness, ownership, and use of nets, “none of the countries reached the ambitious Abuja targets.”
Even at reduced prices the ITNs made available through this commercial sector approach were still more expensive than most families could afford. In addition partway through the project the emphasis shifted from local products to imported LLiNs leaving a leaving a very bitter taste, particularly in Nigeria with its large industrial sector, in mouths of the textile and chemical partners who during malaria partners meetings at the time expressed a sense of betrayal.
Talk arose in Nigeria about the potential for starting LLIN production in the country, but no one stepped forward with funding or technical assistance. In the meantime, on the other side of the continent, A to Z Textiles of Tanzania entered into a partnership and by 2003 LLINs were being produced in Arusha. Sumitomo Chemical provided a royalty-free technology license to the company for its Olyset LLINs. “By 2010, Olyset Net production capacity (at A to Z) reached 30 million LLINs per year, creating 8,000 jobs; more than half of the global Olyset Net output and an outstanding contribution to the local economy.”
Over the years A to Z Textiles were hard pressed, just like the few other LLIN manufacturers, to meet global demand. Over the period, the focus changed from protecting young children and pregnant women to universal coverage of the population. Also research and actual use found that the lifespan of an LLIN was not the 5 years as initially projected, but more like two. These factors meant that supply could rarely meet demand for regular replacement nets. No wonder Rwanda wants its own LLIN factory!
In addition to supply issues, does local availability of LLINs make a difference in fighting malaria? Regular studies by the Demographic and Health Survey group of USAID in Tanzania found that ITN use increased over time by children below five years of age. The most recent survey still shows that the 2010 Abuja target of 80% was not met (let alone a target of universal coverage), but the findings hint at the importance of having locally available LLINs.
Let’s wish Rwanda success in establishing its LLIN manufacturing capacity. For colleagues in Nigeria and elsewhere who have expressed interest in this issue, your advocacy work is just beginning.