Nets Make Good Business in Tanzania

Oct 2006
Pregnant women receive vouchers when they attend prenatal checkups at local health clinics. They then take the voucher to specific retailers, select a net and pay the discounted price.
Herman Kimambo in front of his bed net shop in Tanzania’s Morogoro district. Source: Karie Atkinson/USAID

MOROGORO, Tanzania

Tucked in a bustling market place in Tanzania’s Morogoro district, one shop that fights disease stands out among the vegetable and fruit stalls, tables of dried fish and tailors at work on manual sewing machines.

Posters of mosquito bed nets cover the interior of Herman Kimambo’s shop, and neat stacks of nets line the shelves. He has been in the net business since 1996.

The shopkeeper is in the Hati Punguzo voucher program carried out by Mennonite Economic Development Associates (MEDA) with U.S. assistance.

The program provides a large discount on bed nets for pregnant women through a voucher that they can cash in at participating outlets. Retailers and wholesalers agree to report voucher use to MEDA and show that they have enough capital to start a business.

Kimambo sells bed nets retail to pregnant women and wholesale to other retailers. After collecting the vouchers, he forwards them to bed net manufacturers in exchange for more bed nets.

Pregnant women receive vouchers when they attend prenatal checkups at local health clinics. They then take the voucher to specific retailers, select a net and pay the discounted price. The redeemed voucher is sent back to the MEDA office to assure they have been used properly.

Kimambo sells two kinds of nets: long lasting insecticide-treated nets that last up to 3 years and nets that must be re-treated every six months. The latter variety comes with a re-treatment tablet. The tablet is added to water, and the net is dipped in the solution. The nets are sold in four colors and several sizes.

"As a result of this voucher program, my monthly sales have increased by 75 to 100 percent,” the businessman said as he held up a hand-written chart with different columns tracking the increase. On average about half the 2,000 nets he sells per month are associated with the voucher program. He also said that retailers are buying nets from him who had never bought nets from him before.

With the addition of the PMI-funded infant voucher program, which allows mothers to buy low-cost nets for their infants at the age of immunization (around 9 months) at a discounted price, Kimambo said he expects sales will increase even more as demand grows. “Sales could shoot up over 100 percent,” he asserted.

About 35 percent of all deaths in children under age 5 in Tanzania are due to malaria. “Efforts like Hati Punguzo have reduced the burden of malaria in the district,” said Dr. G.J.B. Mtey, municipal medical officer of health for Morogoro District.

“Families and communities must understand the importance of using bed nets – for the program to be sustainable, the demand for nets has to come from them,” he added.

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