Like so many celebrities, NGOs and politicians who embrace this inefficient cause and reject the proven techniques that save lives.
“One out of two people will not sleep under a net,” Ray Chambers, the UN special envoy for malaria, has confirmed. In Uganda, for example, the government gave bed-nets to hundreds of children and observed the outcomes. A few weeks later, over half had malaria.
In some of the poorer parts of Africa nets are used for other means.
Bed nets given away free can be traded for fishing, for use as sieves or even for wedding dress material. From a western perspective this may seem foolish and ungrateful, but therein lies the problem – judging the travails of impoverished regions from a safe distance often ignores local conditions and cultural preferences. Silver-bullet solutions often miss their target.
The aid industry originally considered bed-nets a major breakthrough in the fight against the disease. They are easy to use, very easy to distribute and require no professional oversight (unlike insecticides and medicines).
But a lot of people do not like sleeping under a stifling net in hot and humid countries where mosquitoes thrive. They may not mind if it were seen as a life-saving necessity but malaria is so common in Africa, and in most cases goes away by itself, that many consider it routine – a bit like the colds or flu in the west that used to kill many children and adults until a few decades ago.
Furthermore, nets do not last for ever.
It is not entirely clear how long the insecticide coating lasts, especially as some people will wash the nets and dry them in direct sunlight and the open air. Generally they last for three years, when they have to be retreated or replaced. Distributing bed-nets may be relatively simple, but in this sense it is only a short-term solution.
Nets cannot conquer the disease. As demonstrated in many parts of the world, malaria is defeated by economic growth (which improves living conditions), insecticides (the falsely maligned DDT eradicated it in Europe, the southern USA and India only a few decades ago) and good healthcare. Without these sustainable methods, it can simply return. In Tanzania, malaria had been nearly eradicated on the island of Zanzibar before coming back.
The message here is that health, prosperity and development are not created by top-down one-size-fits-all schemes by international bureaucracies, but by empowering the poor to come up with their own solutions.
That’s why we came up with the Multi Mesh Screen.