Unreliable Tanzania 2: Nets

Photograph of a room at the Zanzibar Beach Resort, showing mosquito nets on the four-poster bed

Everywhere you go in Tanzania, there are nets. Mosquito nets. And not just here at the comfortable Zanzibar Beach Resort, where we stayed one night, but every little accommodation place we saw throughout the country. They’re serious about nets.

To be honest, at first I thought it was a just a bit of Africana for the tourists — hey, a four-poster bed certainly makes you feel like you’re somewhere different, right? But not so.

One morning in Dodoma, the ActionAid Australia campaigner travelling with me, Lena Aahlby, asked whether I’d bothered using the mosquito net. “No,” I said. “It’s dry, there weren’t any mosquitoes around, so I didn’t bother.”

Despite the scary warnings in my little travel medicine book, I hadn’t bothered with insect repellent either.

But our Tanzanian colleague Albert Jimwaga leapt in. “Oh, you’ve got to use the mosquito nets,” he said, a genuinely worried tone in his voice. “It doesn’t matter if you can’t see any mosquitoes, because they only come out late at night. You have to use the nets!”

It turns out this wasn’t just polite concern for his overseas visitors.

In Tanzania and other African nations, the threat from malaria is real.

As Abdul Kajumulo points out, malaria kills more than 100,000 infants annually, and attacks between 16 and 18 million people countrywide each year. That’s around 45% of the population. And that’s despite Tanzania having a decent anti-malaria strategy, apparently.

For my brief stay in country, spending AUD 30 for a month on gut-churning Doxycycline is a viable prevention strategy. But poor rural peasants only earn AUD 120 a year, so many malaria cases go untreated — with an obvious toll on individuals, families and the economy.

And then there’s dengue fever, for which there’s no vaccination and no cure.

I now have real respect for the humble mosquito net. I can see why, when there’s flooding or other cause for human displacement, a truckload of mosquito nets is high on the agenda.

[Disclaimer: Stilgherrian was in Tanzania as a guest of ActionAid Australia. His opinions do not necessarily represent the views of that organisation or its international affiliates.]

5 Replies to “Unreliable Tanzania 2: Nets”

  1. Yes Stil, mosquito nets have become an important tool in the arsenal of governments and NGOs combatting Malaria around the world – especially during floods.

    Currently, in the Indian state of Assam, the annual rains are forcing about half-a-million people to flee their homes due to flooding.

    With people sheltering in schools and makeshift camps, one of the first thing ActionAid is aiming to deliver is… you guessed it: mosquito nets.


    One question though – did you ever start using the Mosquito nets and insect repellent?

  2. You’ll find (or used to) mosquito nets in (Far) Northern Queensland as well. I don’t know if there is threat from Malaria in (F)NQ but when I passed through (nearby) Port Moresby Papua New Guinea (just one day on a cruise liner en route to the UK many years ago) malaria medication was essential at least a week before departure and it was advised to continue taking the tablets for a week or so after leaving Papua New Guinea.

    In those days Port Moresby was fairly civilised but as I understand it today it is recognised as one of the most dangerous places on Earth. When interviewed for a contract position for an oil company (PNG owned) in Australia two years ago it was pointed out that the job could well involve at least a week in Port Moresby. This was considered to be against the interests of anyone wishing to make themselves available for the position (which I wasn’t well enough to accept anyway) but they were kind enough to point out that the job entailed possible hazards.

    There was a film on SBS some time back about a rural worker in Senegal taking his sick wife to Dakar for treatment. It was an interesting film and one that your exploits in Africa bring to mind. (I spent a day in Dakar on the way back from the UK to Australia but don’t recall being requested to take malaria medication).

    The “bottom line” with regards to that particular film about life in Senegal was that in the rural areas there is support from the community. In Dakar however he was given a prescription from a hospital for drugs that could save his wife’s life but he didn’t have any money to pay for the drugs and as a consequence she died.

    BTW: I’ve been searching for blogs from local Australian aboriginal people in their native langauges but haven’t been able to find any. There are government blogs about Austalian aboriginal people but I can’t find any statistics regarding Australian aboriginal indigenous use of the Internet. In Tanzania there are reputely 400,000 Internet users (CIA factbook). Canada seemingly has statistics on Internet use by their indigenous peoples.

    According to statistics the biggest cause of death in Tanzania is hunger rather than malaria and the average life expectancy from memory is just 44 years with a GNP per head of population of about $1,300 US dollars.

    E&OE (Errors and Omissions Excepted)

  3. @Mark Chenery: I did start using the mosquito nets after that, yes — especially after I got back to Dar es Salaam and there were suddenly audible mosquitoes in the more humid climate.

    I never used the insect repellent. I hated the feel of it on my skin. Slimy rather than greasy, I thought. Perception of risk is an interesting thing.

    @Bob Bain: That trade-off between medication and, well, just living is a stark one. The New York Times article Death in Birth (free registration required) points out that in Tanzania many mothers die in childbirth because they can’t afford the $6 to give birth in a hospital rather than with the village’s untrained midwife.

  4. I live in fear of dengue fever. No idea why. When I was traveling through the portions of Costa Rica where it is common (the Caribbean coast) I kept myself well insect-repel-ified. So far, no dengue. So far.

  5. I love sleeping under mosquito nets, timber houses, open windows and the night breeze cooling the room. Essential to have in National parks in Brasil and Bolivia. I wont take malaria tablets. Too many side effects, too many varieties and too many pills. The odds against the anti-malarial stuff working is remote.

    Don’t know if the following is remotely correct, but there is a theory that the eating of bananas attracts the mozzies like anything. As mozzies don’t like me anyway I don’t want to risk turning ‘me’ into a guinea-pig by eating bananas. Also I can take them, or leave them alone. Cheers

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