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An international trio of experts have called on donor agencies to stop selling insecticide treated bed nets to African populations at risk of malaria and to start giving them away instead. Money currently wasted on advertising the nets to isolated vulnerable groups, such as pregnant women, should be diverted to funding mass free distribution campaigns, which would increase the pitiful coverage achieved so far and control malaria more effectively. In many endemic areas only one in 10 people has access to a treated net, they write. The rest can't afford the $2 (£1; €1.50) price tag. Education campaigns promoting nets are clearly futile in these areas.
Bed nets treated with insecticide protect individuals and communities from malaria at a cost of only 60 cents per person per year, researchers write. Free distribution is easily affordable and has already been achieved in a few pioneering countries, such as Ethiopia, where the Red Cross and other partners have imported and distributed more than 18 million nets in the past three years.
Other countries and agencies should follow suit, abandon the “social marketing” that has clearly failed, and begin mass distribution. Only then will the continent have any hope of controlling malaria.