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Coordination &ITNs &Private Sector Bill Brieger | 25 Dec 2009 09:08 am

Keeping up with nets

With the big push to achieve universal coverage of long lasting insecticide-treated nets (LLINs) by the end of 2010, most countries are relying on procurement from a few big companies, most not located in endemic regions. As the Roll Back Malaria Partnership explains:

Rapidly scaling up to universal coverage for populations at risk is critical to achieve the targets of 50% mortality and morbidity reduction by 2010 and a 75% reduction in morbidity and near zero mortality by 2015. The principle of scale-up has been promoted since 2005 by the RBM Partnership. This commitment has been reaffirmed by the UN Secretary-General’s call on World Malaria Day in April 2008 to “put a stop to malaria deaths by ensuring universal coverage by the end of 2010” through the use of vector control and case management tools and strengthening of community-level efforts.

Because most country coverage figures show a major gap in net ownership AND use, the term ‘catch up‘ has been used to describe this massive scale up. For example, the recently released 2008 Nigeria Demographic and Health Survey shows

  • 17% of households have any kind of bed net, treated or not
  • 12% of children under 5 years of age slept under any net
  • 11% of these children slept under an ITN
  • 12% of pregnant women also slept under any net

Kenya’s newly launched national malaria strategy documents that in 2007 40% of pregnant women slept under an ITN, as did 50% of children under 5 year old.

These figures are well below the 2010 RBM coverage target of 80%. As the UN concedes, “Nigeria and Kenya (are) two nations which together account for one third of the estimated 1 million deaths worldwide from the deadly disease.” While Nigeria alone is in the process of distributing more than 60 million LLINs by the end of 2010, this feat aby itself will not guarantee achieving the MDGs.  As RBM explains

Even if parasite prevalence falls to low levels, malaria control will not eliminate the mosquito vector, the parasite, or the favorable environmental conditions for transmission in many locations. To keep malaria at bay, countries need to maintain high levels of coverage even in the absence of a large number of cases. Relaxation of control—whether because of the decline in political will, decrease in funding, or some other reason—could lead to resurgence in transmission and to epidemics.

dscn0009sm.JPGThe maintenance phase of intervention is known also as ‘keep up.’ This means replacing LLINs that are damaged or lose their insecticide strength or to provide nets to new members of a population.

RBM has estimated a 4-5 year life-span for LLINs. As Stephen Smith from CDC reminds us, “Long-lasting nets don’t last forever.”  Smith cites data from Laos and Ghana that show in field conditions nets may be effective for only 1-3 years. This in part stems from the fact that manufacturers do not guarantee the strength of the insecticide beyond 20 washings. Behavior change to prevent frequent washings has not been easy. Nets are also damaged with holes and tears, and while this does not affect the insecticide potency, it may expose the sleeping person to mosquito bites.

So where are the continuous net supplies coming from to keep up? The New Times of Kigali provides one answer. “Rwanda’s manufacturing giant, Utexrwa has entered into a partnership with German chemical and pharmaceutical giant, Bayer to produce over 70, 000 anti-malaria bed nets.”

This brings another partner to the continent to join A to Z Textile Mills in Tanzania who through and agreement with Sumitomo Chemical have been producing long lasting nets since about 2003.  Local production has so far not been able to meet the bulk of the scale up needs for malaria control.

Hopefully local production will be positioned to address the keep up/maintenance needs for nets. This will require coordination between manufacturers, national malaria control programs and the private commercial sector to guarantee a market for nets.  This also assumes that WHO’s pesticide evaluation processes is scaled.

Local production is often made synonymous with capacity building. Without a realistic business plan and collaboration among malaria partners, local production may become a disappointment.

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