Plastic Malaria Nets Help Combat Disease

Mosquito on Net

According to the World Health Organization, there were nearly 250 million cases of malaria worldwide in 2008. An estimated one million people in Africa die of malaria each year – mostly children.  That’s one death every 45 seconds.

Plastic nets treated with insecticides that ward off malaria-carrying mosquitoes save countless lives and are one of the most cost-effective methods of preventing the spread of the disease.  And recent advances have made these nets even easier to employ.

Mosquito nets by themselves have proven useful in the fight against malaria.  Since most infections occur at night, the nets are hung above beds to create a barrier between the mosquitoes and humans.  But nets treated with insecticides are up to 50 percent more effective. Developed in the 1980s, insecticide treated nets (ITNs) are dip-treated in insecticides that repel and even kill disease-carrying mosquitoes.

The first generation of ITNs had to be retreated after approximately  six months of use.  Although the nets could be dip-treated multiple times, the process poses a significant logistical problem in rural areas where the costs and sheer distance of travel are prohibitive.

New technologies allow for production of long-lasting insecticidal nets (LLINs) that remain effective for approximately five years. Polyester (a plastic fiber) nets bind the insecticide to the nets’ surface. Polyethylene (another plastic fiber) nets incorporate the insecticide into the material itself. Field tests have found that both nets can be washed and reused at least 20 times and still retain their effectiveness.

To help further, companies such as BASF and Bayer produce kits to treat nets with insecticides on site — and they are working to make the kits more readily available.  These kits allow previously untreated plastic nets to be transformed into lifesaving LLINs.

Here are a few places to learn more and get involved: