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Majority of Africans Say Malaria Most Prevalent Disease in Their Country

Majority of Africans Say Malaria Most Prevalent Disease in Their Country

Just 25% across 18 African countries say they have bed nets for protection

by Bob Tortora


PRINCETON, NJ -- AIDS has surpassed malaria as Africa's deadliest disease, but most sub-Saharan Africans still see malaria as more prevalent. Spread by mosquitoes, malaria causes flu-like symptoms and ultimately kills more than 1 million Africans per year, most of whom are under five years old. Many of these deaths could be avoided: Although there is no vaccine for malaria, it is actually quite easy to control the spread of the disease through the use of insecticide-dipped bed nets.

The Gallup World Poll collects a variety of data about malaria and other health issues in sub-Saharan Africa. In 2006, respondents in 19 sub-Saharan African countries were asked what they felt was the most prevalent disease in their country. Overall, a slight majority of Africans (52%) named malaria as the most prevalent illness, significantly more than the 4 in 10 (36%) who named HIV/AIDS.

Although malaria is a widespread concern in most of the sub-Saharan African countries surveyed, just 9% of respondents in Zimbabwe, and less than 1% in Botswana and South Africa, claim that malaria is the most rampant disease in their countries. In these three countries, HIV/AIDS is much more widely perceived to be the most prevalent illness.

Bed Nets

The use of bed nets to repel disease-carrying mosquitoes is the most effective and least expensive means of protection against malaria; each net costs just $2 to $6 (U.S.). However, extreme poverty in sub-Saharan Africa makes even such a cheap and vital precaution inaccessible to many. Gallup's survey found that only one in four households (25%) owned at least one bed net in 2006.

Among households in which the respondent is employed, use of bed nets rises just slightly, from 25% to 27%. Although this is a small percentage increase, in terms of absolute numbers it represents millions more protected beds across the 18 countries surveyed.

In addition to prevalence of bed nets, the age of the bed net and whether it has been treated with an insecticide are important factors. To be most effective, bed nets should be treated every 6 to 12 months or given a more permanent insecticide treatment.

The Gallup World Poll asked specific questions to determine when respondents had purchased or were given their most recent bed net, and whether it had been treated with a pesticide. Overall across the 18 countries, a majority of respondents who own bed nets -- 62% -- said they most recently acquired one at least a year ago. In Nigeria and Botswana, that number rises to about three-fourths, while in Tanzania and Cameroon, the percentages of bed nets more than a year old are closer to one-half (49% and 54%, respectively).

Across all 18 countries, slightly more than half (54%) of respondents' most recently obtained bed nets have never been treated with insecticide, while only about 4% have been dipped in a permanent treatment. Madagascar has the highest percentage of nets that have never been treated, at 85%, while Ghanaians and Kenyans (29% each) report the lowest percentages of non-treated nets. Regarding permanently treated bed nets, Burkina Faso has the highest percentage at 11%, while no Angolans report that they own a permanently treated bed net.

Survey Methods

Results are based on face-to-face interviews with randomly selected national samples of approximately 1,000 adults, aged 15 and older, who live permanently in the 19 African nations surveyed. For results based on these samples, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum error attributable to sampling and other random effects is ±3 percentage points. In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

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