TOKYO / GENEVA / NEW YORK, 26 September 2003 – An innovative Japanese product that has the potential to save millions of people from malaria every year is for the first time being manufactured in Africa – the continent where 90 per cent of the world’s malaria deaths occur.
UNICEF, WHO and the Acumen Fund, which jointly announced the breakthrough today, said the transfer of the Japanese technology to an African manufacturer was made possible by an international public-private partnership aimed at greatly reducing malaria deaths.
The new technology extends the efficacy of insecticide-treated bednets from about one year to more than four years without being retreated. Known as “long-lasting insecticidal nets,” the new product is a powerful weapon for fighting malaria, which kills more than one million people annually, most of them children under the age of five.
“The use of long-lasting nets brings us to a crucial point in the war against malaria,” said UNICEF Executive Director Carol Bellamy. “If we can get these kinds of nets into the homes of the people who need them most, we can take a huge stride toward stopping a disease that kills 3,000 children every day.”
Ordinary nets need to be treated with insecticides at least once a year to remain effective, a requirement which has been difficult to achieve, in part due to cost, availability, and custom. In comparison, the long-lasting nets retain their effectiveness for at least four years, thanks to a technology that embeds the insecticide within the net’s very fibres. Until A-Z Textile Mills in Arusha, Tanzania, began producing the nets in Africa earlier this month, long-lasting nets were only manufactured in East Asia.
Producing the nets in Africa increases their availability to the people most affected by malaria and strengthens the development of industry in Africa. In addition to the human toll, malaria costs Africa $10 to $12 billion annually in lost GDP.
“If health and development are truly global priorities, then it is essential that we reduce the number of malaria deaths,” said Dr. LEE Jong-wook, Director-General of WHO. “Insecticidal nets stop the malaria-carrying mosquitoes from biting, and act as a chemical death trap for them. Properly used, they can cut malarial morbidity by at least 50% and child deaths by 20%.”
The Japanese technology was brought to Africa by a partnership comprising WHO, UNICEF, the Acumen Fund, and private companies. The Acumen Fund, a New York-based non-profit organization that focuses on improving the lives of the poor around the world, provided a loan to A-Z Textile Mills to purchase machinery required for the manufacture of long-lasting nets.
The machinery and specialized chemicals came from Japan’s Sumitomo Chemical Company, which invented the process for producing the long-lasting nets. Sumitomo streamlined the production process to make bednets more affordable, and transferred its “Olyset” technology on a non-exclusive basis to A to Z Textiles without any license fee. In addition, Sumitomo has agreed to train African technicians and establish quality control procedures for long-lasting bednets manufactured in Africa. The company has already expressed its willingness to transfer the Olyset technology to more African bednet producers.
ExxonMobil, another partner in the venture, will supply the resin for the manufacture of long-lasting nets.
At the upcoming third Tokyo International Conference on African development from September 29 to October 1, members of the Roll Back Malaria initiative, a global partnership founded by the WHO, United Nations Development Program, the World Bank and UNICEF, hope to mobilize support for the control of malaria. One day during the conference will be devoted to increasing efforts to reduce the burdens of HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria.
”It is critical that this breakthrough with long-lasting nets benefit poor families and communities,” said UNICEF’s Bellamy. “Reducing taxes and tariffs on material needed to produce the netting will make this possible, as well as subsidizing the cost of the new nets especially targeting the most vulnerable groups, pregnant women and children under five years of age.”
While UNICEF and WHO welcome the public-private partnership that initiated the Africa-based production of the bednets, they emphasize the need for futher development of these long-lasting technologies and the involvement of additional partners. They also encourage similar transfers to other African companies and increased funding to subsidize the purchase of the nets for Africa’s poorest families. Slightly more than $1.5 billion could pay for 100 million families to have three nets in the home. Although the initial cost of insecticidal nets is higher than conventional nets (around $5), when the costs of annual retreatment that conventional nets need are considered, long-lasting nets are much more cost-effective.
WHO, UNICEF and the Acumen Fund, together with their private partners, hope that other African companies will soon also have the capability to manufacture long-lasting nets. They are appealing to companies that make the raw materials or that have developed the technology, and to entrepreneurs and businesses based in Africa, so that low cost, high-quality bednets might be available quickly to all people at risk.
Many African countries have recently received, or will shortly receive, funds for the purchase of nets from the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, and some of these countries will choose to purchase LLITNs. Nets are distributed to people at risk of malaria through commercial sales, through subsidised sales linked to vouchers distributed at medical clinics, and through direct distribution to vulnerable groups. UNICEF will also be purchasing nets from A to Z for distribution in Africa.
“We envision a range of highly effective, locally manufactured long lasting insecticidal nets being produced in Africa within the next few years,” said Dr. Lee. “With greater availability of funding for malaria prevention and control, getting these nets to the people who need them will contribute in a big way in controlling Africa's number one child killer in a sustainable way.”
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For further information, please contact:
Mohammad Jalloh, UNICEF Media, New York: (212) 326 7516
Maria Cheng, WHO, Geneva, Switzerland (41 22) 791 3982
Victor Chinyama, UNICEF Eastern and Southern Africa Regional Office: (254) 20 622218
Damien Personnaz, UNICEF, Geneva: +4122 9095716
Video footage and photos on malaria available on request.