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Tanzania has become the first African country to start producing a new type of long-lasting bednet that could help significantly reduce deaths from malaria, the mosquito-borne disease that kills more than a million people a year.

The bednets are made from specially designed polyester that incorporates insecticide into the material's molecular structure. This means that unlike conventional bednets, which need to be sprayed with insecticide every year to remain effective, the new bednets can fend off mosquitoes for more than four years without being retreated.

 "The use of long-lasting nets brings us to a crucial point in the war against malaria," says Carol Bellamy, executive director of the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF). "If we can get these kinds of nets into the homes of the people who need them most, we can take a huge stride toward stopping a disease that kills 3,000 children every day."

An Arusha-based manufacturer, A-Z Textile Mills, has started producing the new bednets with the financial support of an international public-private partnership that includes UNICEF, the World Health Organisation (WHO), the New York-based organisation the Acumen Fund, and private companies. Previously, the long-lasting nets — which were designed in Japan — were manufactured only in East Asia.

According to the WHO, producing the nets in Africa increases their availability to those most at need, and also strengthens the development of industry in Africa.

Bellamy says that more needs to be done to allow the poor to benefit from the new technology. "It is critical that this breakthrough with long-lasting nets benefits poor families and communities," she says. "Reducing taxes and tariffs on material needed to produce the netting will make this possible, as well as subsidising the cost of the new nets."

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