© Jim Gathany, CDC
An Anopheles stephensi mosquito obtaining a blood meal from a human host.

Although the news is dominated by coverage of the COVID-19 virus, those protecting public health are still hard at work doing their jobs. The diseases they work to prevent are still as relevant as they were three months ago, even though they’re not grabbing daily headlines.

It’s easy to be infected with malaria — it’s caused by a single mosquito bite. In the United States, it rarely exists compared to other diseases and viruses. Last year the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimated 2,000 cases of malaria in the U.S., most being infected travelers from other countries. In the same time period, there were 39 million cases of the common flu.

But in sub-Saharan Africa, Southeast Asia, Latin America and the Middle East, malaria is an everyday concern. These areas are the worst malaria breeding grounds in the world, which saw 219 million new cases in 2019 and 435,000 deaths — 70 percent of which were children younger than age 5.

The Washington, D.C.-based group Nothing But Nets — teaming up with politicians, the United Nations (UN), the World Health Organization (WHO) and industries like pest control — has made dramatic efforts to stop the most startling malaria statistic: Every two minutes a child dies from malaria.

HOW IT STARTED. In 2006, Sports Illustrated Columnist Rick Reilly wrote a column (https://buff.ly/2V7AWtt) about malaria and the need for bed nets. In it, he challenged readers to donate so that nets could be purchased and shipped to various countries. That article was the informal creation of Nothing But Nets, which to date has raised more than $70 million and delivered 13 million bed nets to families in malaria-impacted countries.

“Nothing But Nets is the world’s largest grassroots campaign to save lives by fighting malaria. We know that malaria as a disease claims the life of a child every two minutes, so we feel it’s important to address the impact that malaria has across the globe,” said Chelsea Montes de Oca, the foundation’s officer of communications and digital media.

“We bring together the UN partners, advocates, celebrity champions and organizations in order to raise awareness, funds and voices to protect those families that are the most vulnerable. We’re really working together...we’re trying to coalesce all these different groups so we can be the generation that ends malaria for good.”

Bed nets are simple and cost effective to get to the masses. The organization uses long-lasting insecticidal bed nets (LLINs) because they are designed to protect families from malaria while sleeping. Unlike using products that are applied on the skin to protect a person, bed nets create a physical barrier against malaria-carrying mosquitoes.

In addition, the bed nets also kill mosquitoes because they are made with insecticide in the manufacturing process. This is a major force in the fight against malaria, especially in countries where mosquito infestations are year-round because temperatures never cool enough to make them seasonal pests.

THE DIFFERENCE. In the war against malaria, the statistics show Nothing But Nets has made a staggering impact throughout the world. Twenty years ago, only 2 percent of the population in sub-Saharan Africa was using bed nets. Today, more than half use them.

As a result, it’s estimated that the group, along with other organizations, has helped save more than 6.8 million lives from malaria since 2000. While helping raise the funds to secure the bed nets, Nothing But Nets also works with UN partners and local governments to ensure the nets reach residents in even the most remote areas.

According to Partnerships Officer Jonathan Kidwell, 25 percent of malaria cases in the world are in Nigeria. Kidwell says the foundation works with many global partners to get work done at the ground level.

Nothing But Nets advocates to get critical funding for the United Nations; the President’s Malaria Initiative; and the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. The group also collaborates with the WHO and the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO).

PEST CONTROL INDUSTRY. While a few pest control companies are doing great work with the organization, Kidwell is hoping to see more PMPs and manufacturers rally behind Nothing But Nets, especially as there are many ways to get involved with nominal effort.

Eco Pest Control in Richmond, Va., and Adam’s Pest Control in suburban Minneapolis are two companies helping push the organization’s efforts through fundraising and helping expand awareness to fellow PMPs as well as consumers.

“We have several pest control industry partners that we leverage the shared language that we have around the harmful impact of pests around the world,” Kidwell said. “Looking at their contributions to public health domestically we are able to support their messages internationally. Our partners do a few different things. We have a larger company like Syngenta or Bayer who have contributed product and then we have consumer-facing companies and PMPs.

“For PMPs as they are working with their customers to provide quality pest control service to those communities, they are raising awareness for Nothing But Nets,” Kidwell said. He added that companies can share messaging around the harmful impact of pests, which gives them an expansion of their public health messaging to include protecting families and saving lives through the Nothing But Nets campaign.

GET INVOLVED. Kidwell says it’s natural for pest control and Nothing But Nets to be partners in the fight against malaria.

“We have similar messaging and challenges and I think there’s a great opportunity for Nothing But Nets to be a cause partner to the pest control industry and we can help elevate their work to protect public health both in the U.S. and around the world.”

Nothing But Nets attempts to be as creative as possible in the way it partners with companies. For example, some companies donate $10 for every customer that signs up for a new mosquito service during Mosquito Awareness Week in June. That donation provides two nets to protect four people.

Suppliers and vendors also run promotions by placing orders on World Mosquito Day on Aug. 20 and donations are raised that way. In Pennsylvania, an insurance company raises money for Nothing But Nets through partial donations of entry fees from an annual 5K run/walk as well as registrations from a local youth camp.

“We’re really looking at how can we have these multi-faceted campaigns that have corporate contributions in some way, whether a customer unlocks a donation, or a company commits a certain amount of funds based on sales or other action.”

Companies can use the Charity Miles app to support the foundation as well. A technician working on a daily basis would raise .25 per mile with no out-of-pocket cost to the PMP, simply by connecting to the cause. The app’s sponsor picks up the donation.

The author is a Chicago-based freelancer.