Mass distribution of free bednets is crucial to help the world's poor escape malaria, says Jeffrey D. Sachs, director of The Earth Institute at Columbia University in the United States.
Targeting aid at low-cost, low-tech health interventions can prevent deaths in the developing world, he says.
One example is the mass distribution of free insecticide-treated bed nets. Each net costs around just US$10 to produce and distribute but provides protection to the user and helps block malaria transmission within the local community.
Critics argue that a subsidised system would be more efficient but Sachs disagrees, saying there is now convincing evidence to support mass free distribution. Trials show that even charging as low as US$2–3 per net in Africa leads to a large drop in usage, he says.
Other trials by the UN Children's Fund, the WHO and Roll Back Malaria, among others, have shown that mass free distribution can be logistically feasible and well-managed.
As a result coverage in Africa has jumped from around ten million to 170 million nets in the past four years, says Sachs. He concludes that the trials' successes must now be scaled-up.