Creating products that save lives in the developing world is the mission of a company based in Lausanne, Switzerland. Vestergaard Frandsen designs and manufactures devices that prevent diseases such as cholera, guinea worm and malaria. In this second of a five-part feature series, we learn about a longer-lasting treated bednet that helps prevent malaria. Mark Grabowsky, an epidemiologist with the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), based in Ottowa, says it's called a "PermaNet".
The advantage of longer-lasting treated nets is that an insecticide that kills mosquitoes is applied in a way that doesn't come off for an extended period of time and is safe for humans. He says, "The PermaNet -- the long lasting bednets ? now last up to three years. And recent data suggest they last even longer than that, and so what happens is that people are now free to wash these nets as many times as they want. They never have to re-treat them with insecticide, and they retain their ability to both repel and to kill mosquitoes, thereby protecting against malaria."
Grabowsky says this is especially important for children because they are the most vulnerable. "The child is at high risk of dying from malaria, say, in the first five years of life, so if a child can get one of these bednets early in their life, when it lasts three years or longer it can protect the child during the entire high risk period."
The medical specialist adds that the PermaNet is the most widely used of its kind in Africa, but there are several other manufacturers whose products are just as good.
Grabowsky says extensive studies in Africa in the form of clinical trials show that these nets reduce the chance of getting malaria by 50 percent. And the more widely the nets are distributed, the greater the benefit. "For example, we recently discovered that in Rwanda, which had a national bednet campaign, every child under the age of five and every pregnant woman was given a free bednet. And within two months, deaths from malaria had fallen by 70 percent," he says.
The epidemiologist says long lasting insecticide-treated nets are perhaps the best malaria prevention strategy, though not foolproof. He says there are other courses of action in addition to prevention, "If you use your bednet, there's still the possibility that you might get malaria. [The bednet's] not a hundred percent effective -- even though it's highly effective. So if you get a fever which you think might be malaria, I encourage you to still go to the clinic, and still seek help. And if you go to the clinic, most clinics will now have highly effective drugs, much more effective than the drugs we had even five or ten years ago."
Grabowsky says long lasting bednets are available in Africa at public health clinics and that most governments have had national bednet campaigns -- or will have them soon.
If you'd like more information on the PermaNet bednets and other Vestergaard Frandsen products that prevent disease, go to their website at www.vestergaard-frandsen.com. Vestergaard is spelled v-e-s-t-e-r-g-a-a-r-d. And Frandsen is spelled f-r-a-n-d-s-e-n. Once again that website address is www.vestergaard-frandsen.com.