Campaign anticipates misuse of bed nets

Teresa Ad‹o Jo‹o (second from right) receives instructions about the proper use of her new mosquito net from Ilda Nanjembe during a 2012 distribution by The United Methodist Church's Imagine No Malaria campaign in Bom Jesus, Angola. A UMNS photo by Mike DuBose.

Teresa Ad‹o Jo‹o (second from right) learns about proper use of a bed net from Ilda Nanjembe during a 2012 distribution by The United Methodist Church’s Imagine No Malaria campaign in Bom Jesus, Angola. UMNS photo by Mike DuBose.

Bed nets intended to prevent malaria are used in fishing communities in Zambia to fish for food, which is sold in the local market, according to a report in the New York Times. The nets also trap fingerlings necessary for future stock. This decimates stocks and causes environmental harm.

The issue highlights an unintended consequence of the global effort to combat malaria, an effort that has reduced the death toll by half in the past decade.

The net distributions I have seen by the Imagine No Malaria campaign anticipated the problem of net misuse.

Before a distribution, community health workers and volunteers were identified and trained. During a pre-distribution education period, they learned how to prevent malaria, request permission to enter homes to hang nets, and explain proper use and care of nets.

Media campaigns, community meetings, fliers and word-of-mouth alerted local people to the future distribution. Communities were prepared in advance to welcome health workers and volunteers into homes. The trained volunteers hung nets and demonstrated how to use them.

As followup, health workers were assigned for six months to sectors to monitor net use and record the use rate. This identified issues for future distributions and reinforced behavior change practices that are critical for regular net usage.  For 9 to 12 months after a net distribution, there are regular check-ups to ensure proper use and care of the nets.

In the Bo District of Sierra Leone, for example, health workers determined 98 percent of the nets were in use six months after installation. In addition, Imagine No Malaria nets were not distributed around fishing communities. The use of nets for fishing is likely localized to those communities.

In the past, nets distributed without such precautions sometimes appeared in local markets and were used for many unintended purposes. But net providers learned and adapted.

Underlying problems

Secondary uses of netting, as with many other items, are common in many communities lacking resources.

While this doesn’t mitigate the environmental harm, it does emphasize that people are using nets to get food and fish for sale. The root of the problem is food self-sufficiency and a healthy local economy.

It’s compounded by lack of awareness of the harm done to fish stocks.

The story also points to the need for alternatives to nets where practical and for more education.

A greater emphasis on screens and doors in living quarters is proposed. Due to construction practices and cost, this is more practical in some areas than others.

Indoor residual spraying is practical and safe, and it is used in some regions.

Responding to the challenge

Media campaigns can encourage proper use of nets and point out the harm done by this particular secondary use. Local leaders can speak against harmful fishing and build community support for prevention.

Addressing the diseases of poverty is a complex challenge. Solving one problem can lead to others. Unintended consequences reveal themselves.

Disease, poverty, education, food sufficiency and environmental stewardship are interrelated, complex human concerns. We are challenged by them to find life-enhancing solutions.

The story points to the need for thoughtful, comprehensive development to address these interrelated issues of life and death.


This post was edited to remove a sentence that said the NY Times article did not refer to new nets. The article quotes a fisherman who says new nets are better because they don’t have holes.

10 Responses to “Campaign anticipates misuse of bed nets”

  1. Amy January 26, 2015 at 11:12 am #

    Thanks for this response. Helpful to know what Imagine No Malaria has done to try and mitigate such issues. One little note, they did address first v secondary net use in the Times article.

    “But at the end of the line, in poor areas where little goes to waste, mosquito nets become many other things: soccer balls and chicken coops, bridal veils and funeral shrouds. Mosquito nets are literally part of the fabric of a community.

    For many uses, a secondhand net, which has less insecticide on it, will do. But for fishing, it’s different.

    “New mosquito nets are the best,” said David Owich, who fishes on Lake Victoria. “No holes.””

    • Larry Hollon January 26, 2015 at 11:44 am #

      Thanks for catching the reference to new nets. There is clearly a need to have better procedures for distribution and monitoring in this location.

  2. Bruce Alexander January 26, 2015 at 4:08 pm #

    Obviously as with any control measure people who are using nets need to receive information on their benefits and consequences of misuse. The toxicity of pyrethroids to fish is well known and the risk of poisoning a major food supply (through using them as fishing nets or washing them) is another reason why nets that are not impregnated with these chemicals should be considered. You don’t need conventional insecticides to kill mosquitoes on bednets.

  3. Anita Wood January 27, 2015 at 7:15 am #

    How about an additional campaign for fishing nets?

  4. Ted Finlayson-Schueler January 27, 2015 at 7:19 am #

    As a safety professional, this highlights an issue that I have been thinking about for quite a while; First World safety versus Third Word safety. As a Child Passenger Safety Technician, I am horrified every time a child is injured in a automobile crash when they are not properly secured in an appropriate child safety restraint; but do you ride unsecured in a unsafe vehicle over poorly maintained roads to get to a hospital 50 miles away or to sell your produce in a city to support your family? Probably, because your understanding of safety is at a much more fundamental level. From our first world perspective, we are/I am horrified at the possible damage to ecosystems because I know that over time, this will remove the possibility of sustainability for that region. In fact the New York Times article pointed to reduction of fish stock already. From a third world perspective, folks are horrified that they can’t eat today. While many indigenous customs and religions include a reverence for the earth, these concepts are based on not taking more than you need so that all can have life. When your family is starving, these foundational principles no longer have meaning. Further, First World exploitation of indigenous peoples has perhaps replaced a worldview of balance and community with one of individualism. I am glad to see that distribution near lakes/rivers is being curtailed and alternatives are being explored.

  5. Terri January 27, 2015 at 10:11 am #

    My understanding is that folk at UM Africa University in Zimbabwe have been aware of the problems with mosquito nets for more than a decade. I believe they support the distribution and use of mosquito blankets instead of nets.

  6. Leonard January 27, 2015 at 1:58 pm #

    As with any charity the funds/materials are always subject to misuse. in the case of these mosquito nets I believe the benefits far outweigh any misuse of them. The program should be proud of the reduction in the malaria cases and continue its campaign in the most effective way it deems appropriate.

    • Tricia January 31, 2015 at 10:38 am #

      Leonard I agree with you. The wonderful results of our mission outweigh
      the misuse.

  7. Vivian Rodeffer February 2, 2015 at 7:26 am #

    Thank you for such a timely and thorough response to the NY Times article. It is appreciated. I suspected that educational efforts were very thorough and I also am aware that when Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs holds sway, there is not one of us who wouldn’t do everything necessary, using every “tool” we have to feed our hungry family. If we could be informed of how our local churches could provide safe fishing nets, we would do so. Perhaps a separate UMCOR number? Maybe this possibility already exists. Now would certainly be the time to publicize it.

  8. Jim Wishmyer February 3, 2015 at 5:16 am #

    Thank you for posting this article! I was unaware of the original news story. We are still committed to Imagine No Malaria, and appreciate the steps being taken to anticipate and mitigate harm, and the efforts to learn and adapt our methods.

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