Widespread efforts to scale up insecticide treated net ownership to meet 2010 Universal Coverage targets are underway in most endemic countries of Africa.Â The majority have been using their Global Fund grants to make this leap, supplemented by contributions of other partners.
What happens when a country does not have Global Fund resources at this time? Current efforts in Sierra Leone to reach its nearly 6 million citizens provide a lesson on how to cope.
The AFP has reported on a “20-million-dollar campaign to distribute mosquito nets has been funded by the World Bank, the British Department for International Development (DFID), the Federation of the International Red Cross, the United Methodist Church and other health partners.” These partners are “attempting to get insecticide-treated mosquito nets into each household in the country and to ensure their proper use,” using a house-to-house campaign, which is challenged by poor road conditions.
VOA quotes Lianne Kuppens of Unicef in Sierra Leone who said, “”We have roughly 6 million people and we have 3.2 million bed nets already in the country as we speak. So it’s the first time ever that we are going for universal coverage of bed nets.”
Kuppens also noted that ITN use by children below 5 years of age was below 25%, a problem exacerbated by net mis-use – “nets often find their way into the marketplace or are used as fishing nets or shower scrubs. Vegetable growers use mosquito nets to protect cabbages and carrots from harmful bugs.”
VOA also reports that the campaign has a strong “hang up” component that is using “Street theatre, community radio and religious leaders (to) help convince people that hanging their nets over their beds is better in the long run than selling them or catching fish with them.”
Sierra Leone’s experience with the Global Fund (GF) may certainly be influenced by its status as a post-conflict country.Â The Principal Recipient of the current Round 7 Grant, the Ministry of Health, has, according to GF progress reports, experienced some management challenges.
The Round 7 grant has been running for 2 years and just recently received a “conditional Go” for Phase 2 funding.Â ITNs were a small piece of this grant that aimed more at improving malaria treatment.Â By 30th April 2010 the grant had distributed only 277,093 of a targeted 312,498 nets for young children and pregnant women.
While the GF does not attempt to strengthen health systems directly, it certainly makes it possible for countries to use grants for their own health system strengthening efforts. More countries should take advantage of this potential. In the meantime, partners should continue to pull together as is the case in Sierra Leone to ensure Universal Coverage.