African families defensive on their use of malaria nets for fishing

One of the few detailed studies on the issue of insecticide-treated mosquito nets being used for fishing showed that in several villages along Lake Tanganyika, an essential body of water shared by four East African nations, 87.2 percent of households used mosquito nets to fish. When that study was presented at a malaria conference last year, the reception, according to some of those in attendance, was decidedly cool.

“People are very defensive about this topic,” said Amy Lehman, an American physician and the founder of the Lake Tanganyika Floating Health Clinic, which conducted the study. “The narrative has always been, ‘Spend $10 on a net and save a life,’ and that’s a very compelling narrative.

“But what if that net is distributed in a waterside, food-insecure area where maybe you won’t be affecting the malaria rate at all and you might actually be hurting the environment?” she said. “It’s a lose-lose. And that’s not a very neat story to tell.”

An insecticide-treated mosquito net, hung over a bed, is the front line in the battle against malaria. It’s also the perfect mosquito-killing machine.

Western governments and foundations donate the money. Big companies like BASF, Bayer and Sumitomo Chemical design the nets. They are manufactured at about $3 apiece, many in China and Vietnam, shipped in steel containers to Africa, trucked to villages by aid agencies, and handed out by local ministries of health, usually gratis. The World Health Organization says the nets are a primary reason malaria death rates in Africa have been cut in half since 2000.

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.” When asked where he had gotten his, he smiled. “At the hospital,” he said. “Much cheaper than a real net.” (A “real” net costs about $50, an enormous expense in a place where many people survive on a few dollars a day.)

In Mr. Owich’s world, there is no overstating the centrality of fish. His daily catch pays for school supplies and keeps the kerosene lamp lit in his mud hut. All around Lake Victoria, Lake Tanganyika, Lake Malawi and so many others, fish are the engine block of the economy and a de facto social security system for landless people.

For Mr. Ndefi, it is a simple, if painful, matter of choice. He knows all too well the dangers of malaria. His own toddler son, Junior, died of the disease four years ago. Mr. Ndefi hopes his family can survive future bouts of the disease. But he knows his loved ones will not last long without food.

[New York Times]

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  1. Pingback: Malaria nets used for fishing | International Aid

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