[Episcopal Relief & Development] Since its inception in 2006, the NetsforLife® program partnership has distributed a total of 8.5 million mosquito nets as part of its campaign to fight malaria, according to the program’s 2011 annual results, which were released today. Combined with the community education and net monitoring work of nearly 74,000 trained Malaria Control Agents, these nets have saved the lives of over 100,000 children under five and reduced the overall malaria-related death rate by 45 percent in communities where NetsforLife® is active.
“I have seen first hand the success of this program partnership”, said J. Christopher Flowers, who chaired the NetsforLife® Executive Board until the end of 2011. “NetsforLife® shows how great an impact can be made when the private sector partners with faith-based organizations to achieve a common goal. Together, we have been able to reduce illness and save lives in places where malaria used to be the number one cause of death for vulnerable people, especially the immunocompromised and children under five. The NetsforLife® model of combining nets with education and community outreach has proven itself to be wonderfully effective, and I believe it will help move countries toward achieving the targets outlined in the Millennium Development Goals.”
According to Shaun Walsh, executive director for NetsforLife®, the program has led to significant improvement in malaria knowledge and prevention practices. “Our results show that over 85 percent of households in areas where we are active now have at least two mosquito nets, compared to 6.3 percent in our baseline studies. In 2006, only four out of ten people knew what causes malaria, but now nine out of ten know that malaria is caused by a bite from an infected mosquito. In our monitoring and evaluation work, we are seeing that community education is leading to positive behavior change around the use of life-saving malaria nets. Together, nets and education have contributed to an overall reduction of malaria-related deaths by one third in the last decade. However, with over 650,000 people a year still dying from malaria, the fight will continue in earnest.”
NetsforLife® combats malaria by training community agents to deliver life-saving nets, educate community members about proper net use and maintenance, and provide ongoing monitoring and evaluation of net use. Launched in 2006, after a successful pilot program in Zambia, the program is now active in 17 countries throughout sub-Saharan Africa. Five of these countries – Angola, Ghana, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Zambia – have adopted aspects of NetsforLife®’s methodology as part of their national malaria policy, and many more have solicited the program’s input in country-wide strategic planning.
Using its unique networks to access remote communities that are typically unreached by national health programs, NetsforLife® has developed and modeled successful technical distribution strategies. In addition, the program’s proven monitoring and evaluation methods are being widely implemented in order to ensure better overall results. Building on its successes, the program will continue to distribute nets and work in malaria-endemic African countries while collaborating with international agencies, national programs and local malaria stakeholders.
“NetsforLife® has an invaluable set of data and lessons learned around net use, symptom recognition, and barriers to treatment-seeking behavior dating back to the program’s inception,” said Stephen Dzisi, the program’s technical director. “Our work, the success of which is largely due to the committed work of local faith-based partners and community members, has informed how we have course-corrected and scaled up to maintain and increase the program’s impact on malaria control year after year.”
NetsforLife®’s success has been made possible through the support of lead corporate partners the ExxonMobil Foundation, Standard Chartered Bank, The Coca-Cola Africa Foundation, Starr International Foundation and the J.C. Flowers Foundation, with Episcopal Relief & Development as both a funding and implementing partner. Despite NetsforLife®’s progress, however, the program and its partners recognize that the gains are fragile and the fight against the disease is not yet won.
“As the global community continues to work steadily to achieve universal net coverage in malaria endemic countries and turns its attention to the commemoration of the fifth annual World Malaria Day on April 25, 2012,” said Rob Radtke, president of Episcopal Relief & Development, “our hope for the NetsforLife® program is that the impact it has been able to achieve will inspire other partners to join the fight against malaria, and invest in the critical and innovative work that is happening on the ground.”