How to Use a Mosquito Net

How to Use a Mosquito Net

Malaria sucks. No doubt about that. According to the World Health Organization, more than half the world is vulnerable to this mosquito-transmitted disease, particularly pregnant women and children under five. Malaria will put people down for weeks, diminish immune systems, lead to death, and cause major economic strain on families and communities. And while the world is learning how to combat malaria, it is still having a major impact on the daily lives of so many living in Sub-Saharan Africa.

This is profoundly true in Mozambique, where malaria is the top killer of children under five. In response to this reality, the Mozambican government decided to be proactive. In 2016 - with the $20 million assistance of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria - the Ministry of Health pledged to distribute 16 million mosquito nets to families in Mozambique, beginning with the northernmost provinces. Mosquito nets are the cheapest and most effective way to prevent malaria infection. Similar initiatives have continued to provide free malaria nets for communities throughout the country. Various organizations have done the footwork of delivering these nets, whether ambassadors are going door-to-door or nurses are giving them to new mothers at hospitals. The nets are widely available, and very cheap for those who don’t have access to a free one.

But, here’s the thing - malaria nets have limited lifespans and unlimited uses. They get old, they get holes, they get torn, they get repurposed.

Because mosquito nets are also critical for construction…

A fence

A fence

A kitchen

A kitchen

A latrine

A latrine

A shower

A shower

A house

A house

A gate

A gate

Church pews

Church pews

A dish rack

A dish rack

And for protecting growing crops…

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And the produce too…

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You can use it for carrying that produce…

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And for weighing it too…

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This repurposing is often referred to as counter-conduct, a Foucauldian term referencing subdued forms of resistance. As Dan Bulley describes in Migration, Ethics, and Power, communities may not be involved in overt rebellion against the powers that be, but through counter-conduct they make “subtle critiques of humanitarian assistance and states of exception, but also discreet ways of subverting the condition of liminality.” (2017: 53). Counter-conduct is how many societies that are often seen as dependent on aid reveal their own power and capacity.

And there’s plenty of examples in Mozambique. It’s the way that government-distributed condoms become balloons and soccer balls for kids, or the way that jerrycans - designed for holding fuel - gather water and make great drums at parties. But, in my limited experience, mosquito nets proved to be the most prolific example.

Because mosquito nets are great for washing dishes…

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And bodies…

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You can use them to get your water from the well…

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And hang your clothes on the line…

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For identifying your chicken…

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Or your dog…

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And holding onto your goat…

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They will hold your mat together…

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Or make a whole chair…

PC: Rachel Howell

PC: Rachel Howell

Or host a crowd all by itself…

PC: Amy Westerholm

PC: Amy Westerholm

It keeps your broom together…

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And your necklace…

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And your boat…

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It can help you play football…

PC: Rachel Howell

PC: Rachel Howell

Or swing…

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Or shoot some arrows…

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And, believe it or not, you can hang it over your bed and prevent mosquito bites while you sleep!

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Mosquito nets do all this and more. They keep ducks out of dishes and kids out of wells. They bind your chickens, your hair, and your wounds. You can wear them as a belt or catch fish with them. And probably a million other things.

This is not a call to stop supporting the distribution of malaria nets or to say that there is some sort of foreign financial solution to the “misusing” of nets. Local solutions must arise to address the fragile and multifaceted nature of mosquito nets. Grassroots public health education, net-patching kits, and countless other ideas will be the long-lasting response to shortcomings in this malaria preventative. And, hopefully, we are moving toward a day when we don’t have to live in fear of malaria.

It’s rarely out of ignorance or apathy concerning malaria that leads to repurposing - though awareness and health education are ongoing works in places like northern Mozambique. It’s out of resourcefulness and community innovation. It’s a response to torn nets or felt needs in the community. Because, while preventing malaria is good for families, so is a strong house structure, a field of immunity-boosting crops undamaged by pests, a bag of corn uneaten by rats, a space for hosting visitors, a creative way to play, and, you know, not falling in a well.

While humanitarian aid has its limits, mosquito nets don’t. And neither do the communities who use them. Little things like mosquitos may continue to have big impact, but the local ideas that turn nets into chairs and crop covers are the ones that will be seeds of transformation and abundance in the Global South.

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And if you want to give a gift that keeps on giving…and giving…and giving…you too could consider taking a stand against malaria - or other systemic issues - this Christmas. Check out some of the ways WorldVision and Tearfund are participating in sustainable community development with small gifts that lead to empowered families.

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