7 September 2009

Africa: 700 million bednets to help continent sleep better

The East African (Kenya) - September 7, 2009.
Nairobi (Kenya) — Countries affected by malaria in sub Saharan Africa are to benefit from a new campaign involving distribution of 700 million bednets to people living in the region to reduce deaths caused by the disease by 2015.

A number of organisations led by the World Health Organisation have already mobilised $5 billion for the campaign, which will involve setting up more factories to make bednets.

Currently, only factories under a company called A-Z with plants in Tanzania, Nigeria and Ethiopia are making nets for the region.

The campaign is geared at increasing the use of bednets as the most strategic entry point, using politicians, faith-based organisations and the football stars to promote using nets.

A WHO delegation touring Uganda last month said that the most pragmatic solution is bednets, but they would be used in combination with indoors residual spraying and artemisinin-based combination therapy (ACT).

They envisage full bednets coverage, intensified malaria control initiatives by all African heads of state and communities, and no deaths caused by malaria by 2015.

"Bednets are the most appropriate. With wider dissemination, we shall achieve our goals, but we need everybody to sleep under a bednet. We promise to do our part and so should everybody," said WHO director general Dr Margaret Chan.

With 700 million bednets for endemic countries in sub Saharan Africa, everyone in Uganda (about 30 million people) could get a net.

The campaign will particularly boost Uganda, given that it is among the most affected countries. Malaria causes about 320 deaths in Uganda every day, mostly children under the age of five years.

According to available information, at least 17 million bednets will be distributed in Uganda over one year from December.

According to WHO, 3.3 billion people or nearly half of the world's population are at risk of contracting malaria, a disease that kills about a million people every year in Africa, most of them children under five years and pregnant women.

"Malaria can be brought to its knees. We have raised $5 billion to fully cover almost everybody under bednets, use residual spraying and ensure that all public facilities are fully stocked with ACTs." Ray Chambers, the UN special envoy for malaria said.

The decision to champion bednets ahead of the other two strategies stems from the successful incidence of malaria reduction in Rwanda, Tanzania, Zambia, Eritrea and Zanzibar -- which recorded no malaria deaths thanks to a similar bednets campaign.

National bednet coverage in Tanzania is 50 per cent compared with 90 per cent in Zanzibar and only 40 per cent in Uganda.

But in this campaign, faith-based organisations and football are going to be key in increasing malaria prevention awareness. This has worked in Nigeria.

WHO officials said they expect more firms to take up production of bednets, thus lowering the costs. However, this will be finalised at the upcoming conference under the African Leaders Malaria Alliance (ALMA), a coalition of African heads of state to promote malaria control, to be held later this month.

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