Forum: A Better Mosquito Net; January 2008; Scientific American Magazine; by Eva Kaplan; 2 Page(s)
Malaria remains one of the world's great scourges, striking more than 500 million people every year. The groups most at risk are pregnant women and children younger than five years old. In sub-Saharan Africa, 20 percent of all childhood deaths are from malaria. Pregnant women who contract the mosquito-borne disease can develop severe anemia and give birth to underweight babies. The World Health Organization estimates that 10,000 pregnant woman and 200,000 infants in Africa die from malarial infections every year.
To combat the disease, many development agencies have focused on distributing mosquito nets that would protect Africans from being bitten while they sleep. This strategy has resulted in a huge upsurge in the number of bed nets supplied to the population as a whole and particularly to pregnant women and young children. The widespread distribution, however, has not resulted in a significant decrease in malaria. Many doctors in sub-Saharan Africa attribute the failure to an overreliance on nets in lieu of other interventions, such as the indoor spraying of dwellings with insecticide. Other experts say the problem is the misuse of mosquito nets; there is anecdotal evidence that some people have employed the nets as wedding veils or fishing aids. Some economists argue that charging a small fee for the nets would increase the likelihood that they would be used appropriately. Others claim such a fee would prevent a large part of the population from receiving nets. These are valuable debates. Before delving into behavioral economics, though, it might be useful to consider a more basic problem: the mosquito nets are poorly designed.