Despite the huge toll that malaria takes on the world, preventing the disease is relatively easy. Since most transmissions occur through mosquito bites in the middle of the night, widespread use of long-lasting, insecticide-treated bednets can reduce transmission by as much as 90 percent.  

That's why the United Nations Foundation, a public charity created to support UN goals, has a campaign devoted entirely to raising money to purchase bed nets.

Creation of a unique partnership

The campaign is called Nothing But Nets. The name not only highlights the group's sole mission; it's also the way people describe a basketball shot that goes right through the hoop, touching nothing but the net.

The sports connection is no accident. The campaign was launched by American sports writer Rick Reilly. In 2006, Reilly wrote a column in Sports Illustrated asking readers to give money to the U.N. Foundation to buy bednets.  More than 17-thousand people responded, sending in more than one million dollars.

Following the success of this initial drive, the U.N. Foundation, the National Basketball Association, the United Methodist Church and other groups partnered together to form Nothing But Nets.

Executive Director Elizabeth Gore says, "The Nothing But Nets campaign has been responsible, thus far, for raising 26 million dollars, which translates into 2.6 million nets, which is a big part of this. The U.N. System is now up to distributing almost 20 million nets a year."

Big problems caused by little mosquitoes

Every bit of prevention is important, considering the devastating effects of malaria around the world. There are about 300 million infections and one million deaths from malaria each year. Malaria hits children the hardest, to the extent that an infected child dies approximately every 30 seconds.

The disease also has broader impacts.

"Malaria is also hurting all of our other efforts from getting kids to school to people that are on anti-retroviral drugs dying of malaria," Gore says. "It's a root cause of poverty."

Nets for refugees

More recently, Nothing But Nets has partnered with the U.N. High Commission on Refugees (UNHCR) to distribute nets in refugee camps. Refugees and internally displaced peoples are among those most vulnerable to malaria.

According to Thomas Albrecht of UNHCR, "Refugee situations are often very complex, but here we can see that one can make a concrete difference without having to go into much analysis."

Success in tough times

Perhaps because of this concreteness, enthusiasm for the Nothing But Nets campaign has remained strong, even in a troubled economy.

Gore explains, "Just in the last four months, this campaign's been doing better than ever, so even though we're in this economic downturn, we raised more money in December than we ever have in the campaign."

The grassroots organization of Nothing But Nets has also helped maintain its effectiveness. Consider 14-year-old Elisabeth Clymer. She first got involved with Nothing But Nets as part of a school project.  She felt so strongly about it that she quickly got her church's youth group on board.  Now her youth group organizes monthly collections at the church.

Clymer reports, "On World Malaria Day we? collected almost two thousand dollars just in spare change."

With an average donation of just 60 dollars, Nothing But Nets will need the help of hundreds of netraiser volunteers like Clymer in order to achieve their lofty goals.  

"What we're trying to do is cover every sleeping space on the continent of Africa, which is around 300 million people or spaces, give or take," Gore says.

That may sound ambitious, but so is the United Nations' ultimate goal.As part of the Millennium Development Goals, the United Nations would like to eradicate malaria by 2015.