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By: Chris Helfrich

Reflecting on The New York Times Article

June 8, 2017
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On January 24, 2015, The New York Times ran an important story about a small number of families in Africa who have been using insecticide-treated bednets for fishing, rather than for protection from malaria.

I sympathize with Mwewa Ndefi, the Zambian gentleman whose personal story is featured in the article. Like me, Mr. Ndefi is a father. Unlike me, he has had to make the impossible choice between feeding his children and protecting them from a deadly disease. He has chosen to use his family’s supply of bednets to fish, risking that his children could be bitten by a mosquito at night and contract malaria. That’s his way of trying to ensure his family’s survival.

We at Nothing But Nets also want to ensure his family – and millions of others across sub-Saharan Africa – not only survive, but have the chance to thrive. Malaria is a deadly disease which still kills a child every 60 seconds. We have made significant progress in reducing malaria deaths, and we must continue to do more.

While a marginal number of families may use nets for something other than protection from malaria, the global malaria community knows nets have played a critical role in saving lives – an estimated 4.3 million lives since 2000. They are still an essential intervention to protect the 3.2 billion people at risk of malaria around the world. 

Families know the value of nets, too – the World Health Organization reports that at least 90% of people who have access to a bednet report using it. By contrast, the CDC reports that less than 85% of Americans report wearing their seat belts regularly, even though we know seat belts are proven to protect us while driving or riding in cars .

At Nothing But Nets, we work very closely with our UN partners to educate families on the proper use of bednets to ensure they are only used in the protection of malaria. I have had the privilege of personally delivering nets to families in communities in great need, and I can tell you they received those nets with incredible excitement about keeping their children safe from malaria. So it comes as no surprise to me that people are using them the intended way – and it’s also in large part why child deaths from malaria have dropped by nearly half in the last decade.

Yet there are still an estimated 278 million people at risk of malaria in sub-Saharan Africa who do not yet have access to a single net and it’s crucial that we continue to protect these families. I’m grateful to the more than 350,000 Nothing But Nets supporters and partners around the world who support us in this life-saving work.

I’ve seen first-hand the devastating effects that malaria has on families and communities. I’m determined to ensure that every family will sleep soundly under the protection of a bednet – and we will continue to work closely with our global malaria partners working in local communities to ensure those who receive nets are educated on their proper use and the benefits.

If you would like more information on this issue, you can also refer to the statement released this week by the President’s Malaria Initiative. And you can contact us  any time with additional questions.

UPDATE: The Times’ reporter Jeffrey Gettleman provided a follow-up to his article to highlight that bednets are still the best protection families have from malaria:
“I knew this story was going to be sensitive, because while I wanted to reveal some of the unintended consequences of the widespread distribution of mosquito nets, I didn’t want to malign nets in general. I sleep with one every night. So do my children. Malaria still kills someone every single minute in Africa, and a simple net draped over your bed is still the best defense.”

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