US project 'sells 50m bed nets in 7 African nations'

from Pan African News Agency
Published on 17 Sep 2009 View Original
Washington D.C., US (PANA) - In a decade-long initiative to protect millions of families from malaria in sub-Saharan Africa, a U.S. government-funded project he l ped sell 50 million bed nets in seven countries, crafted a voucher system to all o w the poor to receive them for free or partial cost, and created enough incentiv e s for private companies that they invested US$88 million to expand their busines s es, according to results released Thursday by Academy for Educational Developmen t (AED).

The results, released at a conference held at the National Press Club here, show ed that the new commercial approach also helped reduce the price of insecticide- t reated mosquito nets by 30 to 70 percent, as they now sell for between US$4 and U S$7.

The NetMark project, a US$67 million, USAID-funded public-private partnership to prevent malaria, ends 30 September, but the bed net market continues to thrive in seven countries where it operated - Nigeria, Senegal, Mali, Ghana, Uganda, Ethiopia, and Zambia.

Not only did the U.S. investment help spur major spending by private companies - for every US$1 in public funds, African and international businesses spent US$1.30 - the new commercial sector now exists.

'We worked ourselves out of a job. They don't need us anymore, and 'm proud of that,' said Juan Manuel Urrutia, AED's Johannesburg-based deputy direct or of NetMark. 'There are now 41 African distributors who will continue to sell thousands or millions of nets in those seven countries. The voucher system is now entrenched.'

Malaria, a preventable and treatable disease, is one of the biggest killers of young children in Africa.

Overall, the disease, which is transmitted by mosquitoes, kills an estimated 1 million people annually, the vast majority of them in Africa. One of the most effective preventive measures against malaria is to sleep under insecticide-treated bed nets, which are a finely woven barrier and kill most mosquitoes upon contact.

NetMark, which started in 1999, worked by forming partnerships with internationa l net and insecticide manufacturers and African distributors to create retail markets. Under NetMark, all parties worked together to launch the commercial mar keting of insecticide-treated nets, or ITNs. The distributors put the nets into retail outlets. And the stores, most of which hadn't been selling bed nets, soon found a demand for them in part because of NetMark's national awareness campaigns on the benefits of using insecticide-treated nets.

Later, NetMark created a discount voucher system in which people who could not afford the nets brought the voucher to a retailer, who was later reimbursed by the programme.

An estimated 70 to 80 percent of all bed nets in Africa are giveaways, according to studies.

AED's experience shows, however, that a commercial market can thrive side-by-side with public handouts, becoming an important complement to the free distribut ion. Not only does the market offer choice of different types of nets to Africans who can afford them, but analysts believe it is vitally important to keep the market alive: It creates a new commercial sector and it provides a backup system for net distribution if donors' funding drops due to the current global financial crisis or to other emer ging health threats.

AED is a nonprofit organization working globally to improve health, education, civil society and economic development, all regarded as the foundation of thrivi n g societies.

Focusing on the under-served, AED implements more than 250 programmes serving people in all 50 U.S. states and more than 150 countries.

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