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Mosquito nets treated with insecticide help prevent malaria and reduce mortality in young children and pregnant women in sub-Saharan Africa. The World Health Organization would like to see 80% of these target groups sleeping under nets by 2010. But most countries have a long way to go. Using national and international survey data researchers estimate that 18.4 million nets are currently available in 43 of the 45 countries in sub-Saharan Africa. At least another 130 million will be needed to come anywhere near WHO's target, and the figure could be double that if nets are given to all households regardless of risk.
On average, fewer than 7% of households had an insecticide treated net in surveys conducted from 1999 to 2006. But researchers are optimistic that a dramatic increase can be achieved in some countries. International funding initiatives dedicated to malaria control are already having an effect, and net coverage seems to be increasing exponentially, they write. Scaling up operations won't be cheap. Even though the best nets cost only $4.55 (£2.30; €3.38), procurement and delivery on the scale needed will cost around $220m a year.