Syndicate content

Mosquito Nets in Kenya: Driving Africa’s Fastest Reduction in Infant Mortality

Kavita Watsa's picture


Growing up in India, mosquito nets were an essential part of life. I slept under them as a child in Bangalore, with their ropes tied to bedposts, doors, closets, window grills—anything that would offer support at the right height. It was like pitching a tent every night, and the occasional dramatic collapse would result in much helpless laughter. Later, going to college on the banks of the slow-flowing Koovam river in Madras (now Chennai), I tucked myself under a net in my dormitory at about 6 p.m. to avoid the twilight assault of mosquitos from the water. In fact, particularly after a bad attack of malaria when I was a child, a lot of my life was lived perforce under a mosquito net, until electric repellent gadgets reached the market and nets somewhat lost their popularity.

Recently, sitting in Halima Ibrahim’s house in Majengo, a neighborhood in the coastal city of Mombasa, and talking about the new mosquito nets her family had just received from the Kenyan government, I felt instantly at home in her tiny living room. It was packed from corner to corner with family and friends, all brimming with opinions about nets old and new. Everybody talked about malaria and what a problem the disease was in the community. The nets that had just been distributed to them free of cost would make a huge difference, they said, protecting them from being bitten by mosquitos, and saving them considerable expense. Many of the families on the street simply could not afford to buy durable and effective nets at the prices they commanded in the local market.



Through a small door across from where I was sitting was a familiar sight – a small bedroom with a large bed stretched from wall to wall, overhung with an enormous net. In the bed lay a very tiny baby in a red frock and cap, the only member of the family taking a siesta at five o’clock in the evening. Showing us her new baby and talking about the mosquito net she had just received, Halima’s daughter Asanat, a mother of three young children, said that during her first pregnancy, she had received a net at the public clinic. The new nets she received were much better than the old one she said, they were the right size, and of improved quality and durability.

In Kenya, where malaria is endemic in some parts of the country including Mombasa and the coastal districts, eight out of 10 households now own nets to help them beat a vicious disease that both takes away lives and reduces productivity. Mosquito nets that protect from malaria have been making a huge difference to the number of babies surviving through their infancy in the country. Research published last year by the World Bank showed that about half the dramatic reduction in infant mortality in Kenya—a drop of 7.6 percent a year between recent Demographic and Health Surveys—could be attributed to the use of nets. Kenya’s progress in saving babies under the age of one is the fastest among 20 countries with available data in Sub-Saharan Africa.

The theme of this year’s World Malaria Day was “Invest in the Future: Defeat Malaria”. As we recognize this, Kenya’s achievement is really worth celebrating.

Related:

Issue brief: Malaria in Africa

Video: More fifth birthdays in Africa

Video: Towards a Healthy, Wealthy Africa

Research: What has driven the decline in infant mortality in Kenya?

Website: World Bank – Human Development in Africa

 

Comments

Submitted by Rob Yates on

In learning from Kenya's tremendous success in scaling up bed net coverage this lesson from your excellent blog is extremely important:

"The nets that had just been distributed to them free of cost would make a huge difference, they said, protecting them from being bitten by mosquitos, and saving them considerable expense. Many of the families on the street simply could not afford to buy durable and effective nets at the prices they commanded in the local market"

Before 2003 bed net coverage in Kenya was low and unequal with poorer households (like the family in Majengo) unable to afford them. Attempts to scale up coverage using social marketing (selling them at a subsidised price) were ineffective and inequitable - still poor people couldn't afford them. However, when the then Minister of Health, Charity Ngilu, became aware of the pioneering work of the Millennium Villages Project which had covered the entire community by distributing bed nets free of charge, government policy changed. Since then mass distributions of FREE bed nets and ongoing distribution through health facilities have covered the country. I believe national coverage is now around 70-80% and most importantly is reasonably equitably distributed. This is a fantastic achievement and as you rightly point out has contributed to a spectacular reduction in infant mortality in Kenya. Furthermore other countries have replicated this success, notably Ethiopia, Rwanda, Ghana, Burundi and Zambia.

However as the World Bank was instrumental in charging user fees for health services (like bed nets) in the first place, one feels that it is essential that the Bank now fully acknowledges the importance of removing them. Your blog, highlighting the importance of FREE nets, is therefore most welcome.

Submitted by Jacob Manyang on

You guys are doing a great job and i just want to know if you guys help all around the world. i am working on a project that would be providing Mosquito nets to South Sudan. i would like to partner with you guys if possible.

Submitted by Paul Hatton on

Mosquito nets are absolutely vital in certain regions of Africa. I run first aid courses in the UK and we often train members of charities that provide aid to countries in Africa. They say that if they could provide more mosquito nets it could cut out malaria deaths massively. As you have mentioned in the article, there is a definable correlation between mosquito nets and reduced death rates.

Keep up the good work,

Paul Hatton

Add new comment