More than 100 people gathered around a pair of mosquito nets dangling from a ceiling at the Hotel InterContinental Tuesday, oohing and aahing and debating their merits with the intensity of art connoisseurs at a gallery opening.
A welcome party for a mosquito net may seem a bit fussy, but then again, this is no ordinary net. Officials at the National Malaria Center are hoping that Sumitomo Chemical’s Olyset Net, imbued with an insecticide with at least 10 times the staying power of traditional impregnated nets, will be a major step toward saving lives in some of Cambodia’s most vulnerable areas.
“If you want to effectively combat malaria, you have to use mosquito nets to prevent mosquito biting,” Mam Bun Heng, secretary of state for the Ministry of Health, told the gathering of government health officials, provincial malaria workers and NGO representatives Tuesday.
“I want people to know Sumitomo in the way they know Number One condom” for HIV prevention, he said.
The center distributes up to 200,000 insecticide-treated nets each year, center director Dr Duong Socheat said Tuesday. The nets that the center uses now must be re-treated every six months, requiring difficult and expensive trips to remote areas, where few villagers remember or are willing to bring their net to the treatment site.
By eliminating the need for frequent insecticide re-treatment, an Olyset Net ensures protection to users for several years.
But at $5 to $7 per net, Olyset-treated nets are considerably more expensive than those the center currently buys for distribution for just under $2.50 each. The center is counting on money from the fourth round of the Global Fund to launch a small-scale pilot distribution of Olyset nets, Duong Socheat said.
Developed by the Japanese company Sumitomo Chemical, the net is woven from polyethylene fibers that gradually release insecticide over five to seven years.
The plastic fabric resists tears, and the net retains more than
90 percent of its insecticide even after several washings.
The insecticide is based on a chemical Sumitomo developed three to four decades ago, said the company’s regional manager, Andrew Sutton, but it was only in the last few years that the World Health Organization approached the company to discuss expanding production to meet the estimated demand for 20 million to
30 million nets worldwide.
The plastic nets are coarser than traditional polyester nets, and the material is thicker in order to absorb seven years’ worth of insecticide, Sutton said. It has a larger weave to allow for better airflow, a design element that one center official said could be misinterpreted by its users.
“If we distribute this kind, people will take it fishing,” said entomologist Dr Tho Sochantha, with a laugh.