Malaria kills millions each year and sickens millions more. But progress is being made in the fight against one of mankind’s oldest and deadliest enemies. New anti-malaria drugs and vaccines are being developed, and there’s a decidedly low-tech approach to malaria prevention that’s providing immediate relief.
The mosquitoes that transmit malaria to humans are most active after dark. An unprotected person may get dozens of bites each night. Children under five and expectant mothers are especially vulnerable. Mothers because their resistance is down, children because they haven’t yet developed resistance. But David McGuire, director of an anti-malaria program called Netmark, says there is an inexpensive, low-tech defense against these nightly attacks: insecticide treated bed netting.
“There have been a number of studies and they have demonstrated that insecticide treated nets are the best way to prevent malaria and decrease mortality rates, particularly in children under five. The mortality for children sleeping under treated nets can drop, on average, roughly twenty percent. It can reduce the rates of severe malaria by over forty percent. It can also decrease the number of premature births among pregnant women sleeping under nets by forty percent. So it is a very simple yet effective technology.”
But even so basic a technology is often beyond the reach of the poor, especially those living in developing nations. That’s where The Netmark Program comes in. Director McGuire says his organization financed in party by the US Agency for International Development.
Netmark has taken a three-fold approach to this development. First, the group’s local representatives provide startup funding for new bed net manufacturing and marketing enterprises in Africa. Second, they help existing bed net providers expand into as yet untapped markets. Finally, they provide free or heavily subsidized netting to the poorest of the poor, often through local neonatal health clinics.
Government agencies and private charities have donated quite large sums to the war on malaria in recent years. The United States recently announced a fifteen billion-dollar commitment to battle malaria and the other two most deadly epidemics; HIV/AIDS, and tuberculosis. David McGuire says that public pressure will encourage governments to continue the fight. For those interested in getting even more directly involved, he suggests contributions to any one of several agencies at work in malaria prevention in general, and bed net distribution in particular.
The Netmark Program will continue to help those suffering from malaria through at least 2007 when their US-AID funding ends.