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Adama Kamara nurses her daughter Miatta Sannoh, 7 months old, in the village of Giema Dama, Kenema District, Sierra Leone, on June 5, 2017. Miatta was recently sick with malaria.
Sam Phelps/UNICEF

Insecticide-Treated Bed Nets Could Help in Fight Against Malaria

Why Global Citizens Should Care
Mosquito-borne diseases include Zika virus, dengue fever, West Nile virus, Chikungunya virus, and malaria. Efforts to eliminate these diseases are key to achieving the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 3 on good health and well-being for all. You can take action here.

Bed nets with new chemicals designed to target insecticide-resistant mosquitoes have decreased clinical malaria cases by 12% after a two-year trial in Burkina Faso, according to new research.

The research, which was published in the scientific journal the Lancet last week, brought together Durham University, Liverpool’s School of Tropical Medicine, Burkina Faso’s Centre National de Recherche et de Formation sur le Paludisme, and the Swiss Tropical and Public Health Institute.

“This is simply a good news story and one to give us hope for the future,” Steve Lindsay, a professor in the department of biosciences at Durham University who worked on the study, told the Guardian. “The 12% reduction may look small, but it’s actually huge: If we had rolled the nets out across the whole of Burkina Faso, then we would have reduced the number of malaria attacks in children under five by 700,000, or by 1.2 million for the whole population.”

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Traditional bed nets use a pyrethroid insecticide, but malaria mosquitoes are becoming more and more resistant to it, according to the Guardian.

The research was carried out in 91 villages in rural Burkina Faso. Traditional bed nets were replaced with nets that contain both the pyrethroid insecticide and pyriproxyfen, an insect growth regulator that shortens mosquitoes’ lives and reduces their capacity to reproduce.

Not only has Burkina Faso seen a 12% decrease in malaria cases, but researchers also revealed a 51% reduction in overall exposure to mosquitoes and a 52% reduction in moderate anemia among children.

When red blood cells become infected by malaria, they rupture, which decreases the body’s overall red blood cell count — this can cause severe anemia, and is especially dangerous for children.

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Combination nets like the ones tested in Burkina Faso work because mosquitoes are less probable to become resistant to both chemicals, according to Lindsay.

“This new invaluable tool would enable us to tackle more efficiently this terrible and deadly disease that affects many children. If deployed correctly, we could certainly prevent millions of cases and deaths of malaria,” Dr. Alfred B Tiono, head of the public health department at the Centre National de Recherche et de Formation sur le Paludisme, who led the field study, told the Guardian.

There were 216 million cases of malaria in 2016, which 445,000 deaths, according to the latest World Malaria Report.

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While almost half of the world are at risk of malaria, cases are most prominent in sub-Saharan Africa, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

Burkina Faso, for example, sees more than 10 million cases of malaria per year and its rates of infection increased from 2015 to 2016, according to the Guardian.

Children under 5 years old are especially at risk, as 70% of all malaria deaths are in this age group. The mortality rates have decreased from 440,000 in 2010 to 285,000 in 2016, but this sickness still kills a child every two minutes, according to the WHO.

These new nets could therefore mean big news in the fight against preventable diseases like malaria — and in decreasing mortality rates of children around the world.