A Swiss project distributing mosquito nets in Tanzania has cut incidents of malaria among children by more than 60 per cent.
The pilot project, conducted by the Swiss Tropical Institute in Basel and funded by the Swiss Development Agency, will expand into a national programme in the spring.
"There have been two notable successes," said project leader, Dr Christian Lengeler. "The first is that the update rate has been very good.
"After two years of the programme, we had over 60 per cent of all children and pregnant women, who are the groups most at risk from malaria, using treated mosquito nets. As a result, we have had a major reduction of 60 per cent in the total level of severe malarial anaemia in this population."
The project in the remote Kilombero and Ulanga districts in southwestern Tanzania involves about 420,000 people. When it began in 1996, it took a novel approach to malaria control by applying modern marketing methods to promote a cause with social benefits rather than commercial value. The approach is known as social marketing.
"We tried to distribute mosquito nets through different channels, using, for example, local leaders, priests, health services and also the existing commercial market," said Lengeler.
"We found that the commercial market works best and so we have worked with wholesalers and retailers to make sure that people in these areas have access to cheap and good quality nets."
The project's success has led to its expansion into a national programme which will be funded by various organisations including the Swiss Development Agency, the World Health Organisation and the United Nations Children's Fund.
"We aim to use the existing commercial channels for getting mosquito nets out in the whole country," said Lengeler. "We hope that the public sector will create the right conditions by removing taxes, for example, or promoting the use of treated nets."
The impact of malaria in Africa is enormous both in health and economic terms. Recent studies have shown that it probably reduces GNP growth by 1.3 per cent a year.
"If you calculate the impact that our project had on child mortality, it amounts to about 100 lives saved every year," said Lengeler.
"If you could protect every child in Tanzania with a treated mosquito net, you could save roughly 30,000 lives a year. If you applied it to the whole of Africa, you would prevent roughly half a million deaths every year."
by Vincent Landon