Insecticide-treated mosquito nets (ITN) provide excellent protection against malaria; however, they have a number of shortcomings that are particularly evident in politically unstable countries or countries at war: not everyone at risk can necessarily afford a net, nets may be difficult to obtain or import, nets may not be suitable for migrants or refugees sleeping under tents or plastic shelter. There is a need to develop cheaper, locally appropriate alternatives for the most impoverished and for victims of complex emergencies. Afghan women, in common with many Muslim peoples of Asia, wear a veil or wrap known as a chaddar to cover the head and upper body. This cloth doubles as a sheet at night, when they are used by both sexes. A randomized controlled trial was undertaken in which 10% of the families of an Afghan refugee camp (population 3950) in north-western Pakistan had their chaddars and top-sheets treated with permethrin insecticide at a dosage of 1 g/m2 while a further 10% had their chaddars treated with placebo formulation. Malaria episodes were recorded by passive case detection at the camp's health centre. From August to November the odds of having a falciparum or vivax malaria episode were reduced by 64% in children aged 0-10 years and by 38% in refugees aged < 20 years in the group using permethrin-treated chaddars and top-sheets. Incidence in refugees over 20 years of age was not significantly reduced. The cost of the permethrin treatment per person protected (US$0.17) was similar to that for treating bednets (and cost only 10-20% of the price of a new bednet). An entomological study simulating real-life conditions indicated that host-seeking mosquitoes were up to 70% less successful at feeding on men sleeping under treated chaddars and some were killed by the insecticide. Permethrin-treated top-sheets and blankets should provide appropriate and effective protection from malaria in complex emergencies. In Islamic and non-Islamic countries in Asia, treated chaddars and top-sheets should offer a satisfactory solution for the most vulnerable who cannot afford treated nets.