NAIROBI, 16 August (IRIN) - The number of children dying from malaria has dropped sharply in areas of Kenya where the disease is endemic as a result of a campaign to provide free insecticide-treated mosquito nets to families, the United Nations World Health Organization (WHO) said.
According to the health agency, there was near ten-fold increase in the number of young children sleeping under insecticide-treated mosquito nets between 2004 and 2006 in targeted districts, resulting in a reduction of malaria-related deaths by 44 percent.
"This is the first demonstration of the impact of large-scale distribution of insecticide-treated mosquito nets under programme conditions, rather than in research settings," a WHO statement said on 16 August.
"This data from Kenya ends the debate about how to deliver long-lasting insecticidal nets," Arata Kochi, head of WHO's Global Malaria Programme, said.
The findings have encouraged WHO to recommend the free mass distribution of long-lasting nets as the most effective way of combating malaria.
"No longer should the safety and well-being of your family be based on whether you are rich or poor," Kochi added. "When these nets are easily available for every person, young or old, malaria is reduced."
Some 13.4 million nets have been distributed in Kenya over the past five years to combat a disease that threatens more than 25 million people in a population of 34 million.
"For every 1,000 treated nets used, seven children who might have died of malaria are saved," the statement said.
In the past, WHO promoted the provision of insecticide-treated mosquito nets mostly for use by children under five and pregnant women.
Recent studies had, however, shown that by expanding the use of nets to all people in targeted areas, increased coverage and the better protection of vulnerable groups can be achieved.
"In areas of high transmission of malaria, where young children and pregnant women are the most vulnerable, WHO now recommends making their protection the immediate priority while progressively achieving full coverage," the agency said.
The Kenya initiative has been funded with grants from the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, Britain's Department for International Development and has technical support from WHO.
"The government of Kenya is strongly committed to achieving improved and equitable health outcomes for all Kenyans, particularly women and children," said Minister of Health Charity Ngilu.
Insecticide-treated nets repel, disable or kill the vector mosquitoes that transmit malaria. Conventional treated nets need to be re-treated regularly, while long-lasting ones are designed to be effective for the life of the net.
go to www.spreadthenet.org, spend $10, save someone from malaria.
that simple? you bet.