[Episcopal Relief & Development — Press Release] On April 25, World Malaria Day, Episcopal Relief & Development’s NetsforLife® malaria prevention program is joining with its partners to celebrate the gains made so far in stopping this deadly disease, and call for renewed support from local and international stakeholders to “Invest in the Future. Defeat Malaria.”
Working through local Church and community partners, NetsforLife® has had a major impact on malaria in sub-Saharan Africa. The program’s methodology of hanging nets in homes has resulted in higher rates of net coverage and a greater reduction in malaria-related deaths than the standard distribution method. Although the cost of distributing nets directly to households is higher than positioning them at a fixed collection point, coverage and retention rates are much better when the NetsforLife® methodology is implemented, leading to a decline in area mosquito populations and a reduction in malaria-related sickness and death.
“The strengths of our award-winning NetsforLife® model are that we work through local communities and physically hang nets above people’s sleeping areas,” said Gifty Tetteh, Strategic Outreach Officer for NetsforLife®. “Because we train and work through local volunteers, their neighbors trust them to bring nets into their homes and install them, and later follow-up visits help ensure that the nets are in place and maintained properly.”
In 2012, a study by the University of Kinshasa in the Democratic Republic of Congo evaluated the effectiveness of the NetsforLife® “hang-up” methodology versus the standard distribution method in two villages of comparable size. Net possession rates increased from 30% to 98.6% in the village where the NetsforLife® methodology was used (compared to 88.6% in the other village) and five months later 85.5% of homes still had their nets (compared to 68.5%). Even though the NetsforLife® method requires more personnel and resources to implement, its impact extends beyond typical outcome statistics. Increased involvement and community engagement gives the program an influence beyond the life span of a single net by creating a “net culture” where malaria prevention is valued and practiced widely.
“Because we work through local churches, we intentionally think long term,” said Abagail Nelson, Senior Vice President for Programs. “The churches have a deep and lasting presence in the communities, reinforcing the relationships of neighbor helping neighbor, and building up knowledge in the communities and the civil society. When individuals, families, and neighbors have the knowledge to prevent malaria, wellness becomes a community effort and all are empowered.
Community involvement is the key factor that makes the NetsforLife® methodology so much more impactful than the standard distribution method. In order to spread the word about malaria and encourage people to protect their families with nets, local Malaria Control Agents and NetsforLife® staff plan fun and creative activities that all generations can enjoy. For example, in Liberia, NetsforLife® and its local partners are hosting a World Malaria Day event in Riverness County that includes door-to-door education, dramatic skits about malaria prevention, traditional cultural dancers and a soccer match with NetsforLife® and the National Malaria Control Program versus the County Health Team. In Mozambique, the Anglican Diocese of Lebombo will distribute 100 nets to pregnant women and children under five, as well as flood victims through the hospital in Chókwe.
“It is wonderful to see the creative ways in which communities are gathering to celebrate the progress that has been made in the fight against malaria,” said Rob Radtke, President of Episcopal Relief & Development. “In my visits throughout Africa, I have enjoyed being in the audience with people watching their friends and neighbors act out skits dramatizing the importance of installing nets over sleeping areas. The success of NetsforLife® is grounded in this kind of community involvement, and I am thankful to all of the staff and volunteers whose tireless efforts are making such a difference.”
In the United States, as well, community involvement in supporting NetsforLife® through the NetsforLife® Inspiration Fund was key in achieving the campaign’s three-year, $5 million fundraising goal. Launched after the Episcopal Church’s 2009 General Convention, the NetsforLife® Inspiration Fund was a church-wide, grassroots campaign to educate, engage and unite Episcopalians in the fight against malaria. The campaign exceeded its goal in early 2013, thanks to local campaigns run by congregations, dioceses, schools and seminaries, and the committed generosity of thousands of Episcopalians and other supporters.
“The NetsforLife® Inspiration Fund was a tremendous effort on the part of Episcopalians to help combat malaria,” said Joy Shigaki, the organization’s Senior Director of Advancement, who headed the Church-wide campaign. “Every net that was donated will help prevent needless suffering and death due to this disease, and the program’s work to educate people about malaria and early treatment will have a long-lasting impact. I am grateful to everyone who contributed to the campaign, for helping to empower communities with tools and knowledge to stop malaria.”
Moving forward, NetsforLife®’s 2013 goal is to distribute 3 million nets and influence the national malaria control policies of seven countries in addition to the five that have already adopted the “hang-up” methodology. The program will also begin piloting net replacement strategies in areas where the three-year life span of the original nets has been exceeded. Throughout NetsforLife®’s ongoing work, the collection of meaningful data will continue to be a priority, and collaboration with universities and independent institutions will be an area of growth. It is expected that robust analysis of the program’s impact will further establish NetsforLife® as a key player in the effort to end malaria.