Picture yourself inside a home of a malaria endemic village. Everywhere you look there are dangers to an insecticide-treated net (ITN). Holes and tears in nets seem inevitable with small children and animals running around. Even in a quiet home a nail on a wall, a splinter in a bed frame, or a misplaced candle can be a net’s worst nightmare. With so many hazards, it can be challenging for an ITN to last an average of three years between mass ITN distributions. Learning the basics of net care can help keep ITNs in better condition for longer so that they can provide effective protection until replaced by a new net.
Why is net care important for malaria prevention? ITNs are one of the most effective tools to prevent malaria worldwide. However, once ITNs are in use in households, they can suffer wear and tear, shortening their lifespan. By caring for ITNs, the rate of deterioration can be delayed, keeping ITNs lasting longer and protecting communities from malaria.
Pilot studies in Nigeria and Uganda have shown that social and behavior change communication that promotes net care can result in longer life of nets for the protection of families. In Nigeria, ITNs in households with positive attitudes towards net care were found to be in better physical condition and estimated to last as much as 12 months longer than ITNs in households that did not.
What does it mean to care for mosquito nets? Caring for a mosquito net refers to actions that people take in their homes to prevent damage to nets. The most important actions for net care are:
- Hang and handle nets carefully
- Fold or tie a net out of the way during the day
- Inspect the net regularly for damage
- Keep the net away from sources of damage:
- Keep the net out of reach of children
- Do not let children play with nets
- Keep food away from nets
- Do not soil a net with food
- Wash nets carefully:
- Use gentle motions
- Wash nets in a basin or bucket
- Wash nets with mild soap, not detergent
- Wash nets only at the appropriate frequency (generally no more than once every 3 months)
- Hang nets to dry in the shade only, not the sun
Tying or rolling nets out of the way every morning is the most important action to keep nets intact. This keeps nets away from playing children and other sources of damage during the day.
Who should be responsible for taking care of nets in the home? Household members who do regular daily chores and maintain the home during the day are often those who will also take care of nets. In many contexts, this will be women or girls. However, if communication on net care only targets women or girls because of existing gender roles, they may also serve to perpetuate such roles and may miss other primary users of nets. Therefore, net care communication should also reach men and boys. All those who use nets should have a role in net care, regardless of gender.
Communicating about net care is relatively easy to incorporate in any malaria prevention communication work. A new step-by-step guide published by VectorWorks provides helpful tips and resources on how to do this effectively so that more mosquito nets can last longer.
Nets protect from malaria, but with all the possible ways that nets can be damaged, doesn’t it make sense to take action so that your net lasts as long as possible? “Care for your net and it will care for you.”
Gabrielle Hunter is a Senior Program Officer from the Johns Hopkins Center for Communication Programs working on the VectorWorks Project and other great projects.