Ten years have passed since USAID’s NetMark Project started, and observances of program closure were held in Washington earlier this week. The project evolved over time, but a constant theme was strengthening private sector partners – manufacturers, retailers and even advertisers – to make a sustainable contribution to international malaria targets for insecticide treated net (ITN) ownership in Africa.
In its earliest incarnation in Nigeria NetMark worked primarily to build the capacity of endemic country based textile and pharmaceutical companies to make and bundle bed nets and packets of insecticide that would be used by the purchaser to soak the nets.Â These nets/insecticide bundles began appearing in shops, and were also available through subsidized voucher schemes in some areas.
NetMark even identified local net stitchers to ensure an ever more grassroots approach to net production and distribution. One example was a local NGO that hired poor women to make nets and generate an income. In Nigeria government and donor agencies initially jumped on the idea of locally produced nets, making sizable orders for their control programs.
Then Long Lasting Insecticide-treated Nets (LLINs) appeared on the scene and business nearly dried up for the local companies whose ITNs had to be treated every six months.
Since the advent of LLINs NetMark has partnered with the international manufacturers and endemic country wholesalers to maintain a private sector role in net distribution.Â They still hope that LLIN technology will start up soon in Nigeria, thus marking a return to their original goal of boosting local production.
Nigeria, like most countries that are running up to the 2010 RMB goals of universal net coverage, has started massive distribution campaigns of free nets to achieve a two net per household coverage.Â Unfortunately, local LLIN production is not currently in the picture, but there is always the ‘keep-up’ side of net programs – quickly and locally available net supplies will be needed to maintain stocks for purchase by interested people and for governments and donors to buy and give newly pregnant women.
An award winning video on the NetMark experience can be viewed on their website.Â The documentary stresses sustainability. Medical News Today quotes Juan Manuel Urrutia, AED’s Johannesburg-based deputy director of NetMark as saying,”We worked ourselves out of a job. They don’t need us anymore, and I’m proud of that.” That would be sustainability.
In fact we still need to watch what happens. Will there be a private market in Nigeria after 60 million free nets have been distributed? Will donors and government agencies actually buy locally manufactured LLINs (once they become available) to maintain the keep-up coverage activities at maternal and child health clinics? Will households decide to buy additional nets to supplement their two free nets? Concerted effort by national malaria partners will be needed to provide positive answers to these questions.