Billionaire Bill Gates is confident malaria will be eradicated in his lifetime. And reputable aid organizations continue to pat themselves on the backs for scaling up their efforts to provide life-saving nets to prevent the disease’s spread.
But, on-the-ground investigations have found that when people in many African countries don’t have access to food or adequate information about malaria, they’re often inclined to use those very nets for an assortment of other activities. Fishermen in several countries, including Mozambique, Nigeria, Uganda and Zambia, cast the nets into the water to catch food, and kids often tie them to posts to use them as soccer goals, The New York Times reported.
Malaria claims more than 600,000 lives each year, mostly children in Africa, according to the Associated Press. The disease is spread through the bite of an infected mosquito and impressive progress has been made in reducing malaria-related deaths.
According to the World Health Organization, the mortality rate in Africa was reduced by 49 percent between 2000 and 2012.
It was during that same period that nonprofits and world health leaders ramped up their efforts to put an end to malaria. A major component of the campaign was dispensing nets that protect people from mosquitoes to the most affected regions.
According to The Times, more than half a billion such nets have been sent to Africa since 2000. Nothing But Nets, a nonprofit that works with U.N. agencies and other partners, alone has distributed more than 7 million nets in areas of need in sub-Saharan Africa.
But people there say that the combination of a lack of information, and rampant hunger has led Africans to use the nets for other purposes, derailing activists efforts to curb malaria deaths.
Ernest Shauri, a medical assistant at the Kirando Health Center in Tanzania, told The Times many people fear that the nets are poisoned and can lead to impotence.
Others say they simply have no choice, because if they don’t use the nets to catch fish, they’ll starve.
"Our life is hard. We suffer a lot," Juma Saidi, a fisherman, told The Times. "That’s why we use this…to find survival here. So that we can get something to eat."