Moskito nets

Today in one month is World Malaria Day. It was established in 2007 by the WHO and took place for the first time in 2008. So this is the second time it takes place.

Several organizations have started their announcements and action plans:

to only name a few.

Last year the project “One million faces against malaria” asked Facebook members (who heard about it in time) to exchanged their profile picture with a black square for one day with the goal to “raise awareness of malaria and SHOW THE WORLD WHAT ONE MILLION FACES DYING OF MALARIA EVERY YEAR LOOKS LIKE.”

The video from World Vision shows how mosquito nets could prevent the death of so many children.

Several organizations completely focus on providing more mosquito nets, such as:

It is true that there are more than one million children who die each year from malaria (which is already less than when I first arrived in Africa in 1993 when the estimate was two million), the majority are under five years old. This means one child dies every 30 seconds in Africa. Still too many!

So sending mosquito nets to Africa is great, isn’t it? Well, I have mixed feelings about it. One (minor) reason is that I know from experience that the mosquitoes are most active during dusk and dawn, but few children are sleeping during this time. Most children stay up and play until late at night. Nightfall is when the family sits outside in the court yard to eat their evening meal together. Smaller children will fall asleep during this time or shortly after, next to their parents who will sit and talk for a long time into the night. Maybe the parents will use a cloth to wave away flies or mosquitoes but it would be unnatural to separate the small children from the rest of the family, by putting them under the mosquito net inside the house where they would be all alone. Only when the mothers go inside to sleep, they will take their small ones with them. Upper class urban families might have additional smaller mosquito nets, that can be used to protect children sleeping alone. I have seen them on sale in the capital but never anywhere else. It is certainly a good thing to sleep under a mosquito net, and I do it myself, but it is wrong to give the impression that this might prevent children from ever getting bitten by mosquitoes.

And there is another reason:

Ben and Eddie, quoting an article from the Wall Street Journal, raised the issue if sending nets to Africa does not ruin the local businesses that could produce these mosquito nets and therefore perpetuates a cycle of dependency from the West.

I certainly agree, that swamping a region with 100,000  free mosquito nets would have this effect.I am just not convinced that this is what will happen. I have seen the distribution of free mosquito nets in our village. They were usually given as an incentive to pregnant women, encouraging them to come for their pre-natal check-up at the maternity, get their shots and give birth there. I don’t know how these nets had been financed but they certainly did not come in huge quantities drowning out the local production, more like supplementing it. It’s hard to say that this will now suddenly change because of the above mentioned action days, etc.

However, I agree that this principle is at work in many other ways, that “pouring huge sums of money into situations is not a way to achieve goals; not for governments, nor for Christian missions,”  (Eddie) because the situation in developing countries is very complex as I have pointed out before. We often do not understand how touching one part of the “mobile” can unbalance the rest of it and will have unintended side effects. This is were sound anthropological research plays an important role. Also, it helps to be in it for the long run and work on our cultural integration, so that we might have true friends that will give us honest answers, instead of  telling us what they think we want to hear or what helps them “milk” us better.

The author of the WSJ article, Dambisa Moyo, suggested that cutting off the flow would be far more beneficial. I am not convinced of it.

Eddie summarizes his post by “Stimulating local initiative and ownership takes longer, costs less, is much more effective, but is far harder to do.”  And one commenter suggested the use of local supplies and work forces for the production of mosquito nets. I fully agree with both of them.

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