A Global Village
Issue 3 » In The Field

Malaria Nets Saving Lives Locally by Thinking and Acting Globally

John Lucas, Sumitomo Chemical

The United Nations’ eight Millennium Development Goals or MDGs aim to improve social and economic conditions in the world’s poorest countries. Whether these goals will be accomplished by 2015 is debatable, but one thing is certain – malaria prevention is fundamental to their achievement. A wholly preventable disease, malaria contributes directly or indirectly to the achievement of at least four of these MDGs. While MDG Six focuses directly on combating malaria and HIV/AIDS, MDGs Four and Five deal with the reduction of child mortality and improving maternal health – malaria is the primary cause of death amongst mothers and young children, with nearly 1 million dying each year, the majority being in sub-Saharan Africa.

Aside from the tragic loss of life, the incidence of malaria has a direct influence on development and wealth creation, for example, children miss education due to sickness or farmers struck down by the disease cannot work their land and feed their families. Recent estimates put the impact of malaria on the African subcontinent as costing the equivalent of between $8 and $12 billion in lost productivity a year.

A highly effective 
and long lasting 
blocking vaccine is 
still a long way off

There are many interventions that can combat malaria, but if this disease is ever to be eradicated an effective and affordable vaccine is necessary. Whilst significant progress has been made, a highly effective and long lasting transmission blocking vaccine is still a long way off – and until then, other interventions are needed. Long lasting insecticide treated bed nets (also referred to as LNs) can be one of the most cost-effective tools for combating malaria. Great strides have been made in recent years by the international community -including the Global Fund, the World Bank, DFID, Unicef and numerous NGOs - towards raising the necessary funds in order to provide bed nets to everyone at risk of contracting malaria; this is the aim of ‘Universal Coverage’.

Made in Africa, by Africans, for Africans – and for Africa
Several years ago the Sumitomo Chemical Company (SCC) developed Olyset® Net, which was the first WHO fully recommended LN. The tough polyethylene fibres of the net contain the pyrethroid insecticide permethrin, which slowly releases to the surface of the net, acting to kill and repel malaria-transmitting mosquitoes. These nets remain effective for over 5 years.

From the outset, SCC’s strategy has focused on encouraging the development of African-based net production facilities to help provide direct economic benefits to the local community. In 2003, the manufacturing technology for Olyset Net was transferred – on a royalty-free basis – to A to Z Textile Mills, based in Arusha, Tanzania. A to Z already had skills and experience in working with plastics and textiles and now undertakes most elements of the net production process – extruding the yarn, knitting, sewing and packaging while maintaining strict quality control procedures – with the plastic raw material incorporating the insecticide and slow release technology being supplied by SCC from Japan.

Following initial success with this business model, and in the drive to produce enough nets to help reach Universal Coverage targets, a massive expansion of net production was made in 2007 through the establishment of the purpose-built, state-of-the-art Vector Health International (VHI) facility that is jointly owned and run by SCC and A to Z. Today, total production capacity is at 29 million nets a year – this represents approximately 50% of global Olyset Net production. This facility, which includes employee housing as well as a football pitch, is now the largest employer in Arusha, and has created over 7,000 local jobs with indirect support for over 40,000 people in the vicinity of the two factories. Nets made in the factory are shipped all over East Africa. The aim has been that the Olyset Net is a product ‘Made in Africa, by Africans, for Africans – and for Africa’.

South Africa’s staging
of the World Cup in
2010 provided the
ideal platform for an
Africa-wide malaria
awareness program

To further help stimulate local economies, a number of community-based net sewing operations have also been established. For example, in June 2009, hundreds of additional jobs were created following the opening of two net stitching facilities, one in Lilongwe, Malawi, the other in Kombolcha, Ethiopia. These factories have the capacity to produce one and three million nets a year respectively.

“Your Life is Important, Use Your Net”
Manufacturing and distributing bed nets however, is not enough – people need to understand the benefits of bed nets in order to encourage their proper use and care. South Africa’s staging of the World Cup in 2010 provided the ideal platform for an Africa-wide malaria awareness program. The use of bed nets was publicised via the simple message “Your life is important, use your net” broadcasted by Public Service Announcements involving African football stars.

The launch of a landmark communication project with the famous Senegalese singer Youssou N’Dour and the advocacy charity Malaria No More also helped to encourage people to use these nets. The ‘Senegal Surround Sound’ campaign is activating key sectors of Senegalese society – including entertainment, sport, faith, local business and government – to deliver the message across the country that “no family need suffer from malaria”. Youssou N’Dour kicked off the campaign with a concert in Senegal in June 2009 to raise awareness about the national mosquito net distribution. A study that tracks shifts and trends in attitudes and behaviours shows that this campaign is making a measurable, life-saving difference. The ‘Surround’ model has also been adapted to East Africa in the Tanzanian “Zinduka!” campaign.

estimates indicate
that over 100 million
nets will be required
each year once
coverage has been

100 Million Nets
The Millennium Development Goals are not just mere numbers and statistics; they are about real lives being transformed by our shared efforts. With only four years remaining until the 2015 MDG deadline, now is the time to step up our efforts and accelerate the pace of change. The impact of bed nets as well as medical interventions such as better malaria diagnosis and treatment has resulted in a dramatic fall in malaria prevalence in many parts of Africa, and the Millennium Villages provide some good examples of this success story. In the Sauri Millennium Village in Kenya malaria prevalence rates fell from 55% in 2005 (immediately prior to bed net distribution) to 12% in 2007, with rates falling further to a low of around 7% today.

With Universal Coverage targets in Africa set to be achieved within the coming months, the outlook is positive. However, the work does not stop here – new nets need to replace those that are old and exhausted. Many companies have initiated production of their own long lasting nets, making it possible to both achieve and maintain Universal Coverage – with conservative estimates indicating that over 100 million nets will be required each year once coverage has been achieved.

The World Health Organization estimates that bed nets have saved over 750,000 lives since 2005 – with more lives being saved daily and communities transformed through the use of this simple but highly effective tool.

For those interested in learning more or making a donation towards the purchase of LNs, please visit


John Lucas is currently Business Development Manager at Sumitomo Chemical and a graduate of Applied Entomology at Imperial College London.

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