Kenya saving children's lives with bed nets: study

LONDON (Reuters) - Kenya is saving children’s lives with a national program to distribute insecticide-treated bed nets to prevent malaria, a study showed on Thursday.

It said for every 1,000 nets used, the lives of seven children were saved, and urged donors to help fund similar projects.

Malaria kills a child every 30 seconds, mainly African children under 5, according to the World Health Organization.

The researchers, who looked at 3,500 children under the age of 5 in four rural districts of Kenya, said the findings showed government programs could succeed.

“Donor agencies should regard this as money well spent and recognize that the challenge is now to maintain and increase funding to expand further coverage,” the researchers wrote in the journal Lancet.

Malaria is caused by a parasite transmitted via bites from infected mosquitoes. The disease has become resistant to some drugs and work on a vaccine has been slow.

Treated nets last longer than conventional nets, which many people fail to re-treat properly or replace when worn.

While the benefits of nets are well documented in controlled trials, these findings make up one of the few large studies to investigate how effective the programs are at preventing malaria deaths, said Greg Fegan, an epidemiologist at the Kenya Medical Research Institute, who led the study.

“There have only been a few large-scale studies of mosquito bed nets related to mortality,” he said in a telephone interview. “This really adds to the body of knowledge of the effectiveness of programs.”

Fegan and colleagues interviewed women of child-bearing age in four regions of Kenya with varying levels of malaria to see if they had bed nets or not and followed up over a two-year period.

During this time, the number of children who slept under bed nets jumped from 7 percent in 2004 to nearly 67 percent in the four areas through a combination of government efforts, donor funding and other pushes to give out the nets, Fegan said.

The researchers found that in the hardest-hit regions, treated bed nets reduced childhood malaria deaths by about a third.

The findings underscored the need to move beyond a debate over how to distribute bed nets -- either through subsidies or the free market -- and find ways to ensure even the poorest people have access to them, Fegan said.