“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.”
Fabric of a Community
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. The gauzy mesh allows the carbon dioxide that people exhale to flow out, which attracts mosquitoes. But as they swarm in, their cuticles touch the insecticide on the net’s surface, poisoning their nervous systems and shutting down their microscopic hearts.
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.