Part of the ritual of going to bed as a small child, when I was growing up in Africa, was being tucked in at night and the mosquito net being checked to make sure it too was tucked in all around the bed. Then in the morning I would carefully survey what insects might still be lurking before venturing out. I can remember flicking them off from the inside until the coast was clear. My parents used to read in bed so the lights would attract the most amazing array of creepy things.
We usually had the sort suspended from a rectangular canopy like this:
During the day the sides of the net would be folded up all around and left on the top of the "canopy" of the netting.
But on occasions we had what I used to think was a much more romantic arrangement:
During the day the net would be knottted asymmetrically and left to one side. Mind you, they may have been more romantic but you couldn't stand up inside them because of the sloping sides, and if you didn't have it properly tucked in, you'd find it flapping on your face by morning.
It always brings me up short when I read a book or see a film set in Africa, and mosquito nets are missing. So today an IRIN report about the use of mosquito nets in Kenya caught my eye.
The Kenyan Red Cross has been co-ordinating a campaign against malaria, and part of the campaign has been to distribute insecticide-treated bed nets* to families with children under the age of five and pregnant mothers. Malaria, spread by mosquitoes, is one of the leading causes of illness and death especially amongst children under five.
Nobody thought to conduct an awareness campaign, assuming that people would know all about them and how to use them. Unfortunately there has been some resistance to their use. Some people have returned the nets because "nothing happened", others thought they made strange noises which could be something to do with evil spirits.
In spite of the setbacks however, the numbers do show a fall in the incidence of malaria in the under-fives. One village, for example, had 2,136 recorded cases of malaria when the campaign started compared with 1,319 in May 2007.
*the nets in my day weren't insecticide-treated, I don't think they existed. They were just plain nets, occasionally with darned-up holes in them.