Recalculating the net use gap: a multi-country comparison of ITN use versus ITN access

PLoS One. 2014 May 21;9(5):e97496. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0097496. eCollection 2014.


Use of insecticide treated nets is widely recognized as one of the main interventions to prevent malaria and high use rates are a central goal of malaria programs. The gap between household ownership of at least one ITN and population use of ITN has in the past been seen as evidence for failure to achieve appropriate net use. However, past studies compared net use with ownership of at least one net, not access to sufficient nets within households. This study recalculates the net use gap in recent large household surveys using the comparison indicator of 'access to nets within the household' as now recommended by Roll Back Malaria and the World Health Organization. Data from 41 Demographic Health Surveys (DHS) and Malaria Indicator Surveys (MIS) (2005-2012) in sub-Saharan Africa were used. For each dataset three indicators were calculated: population access to ITN, population use of ITN, and household ownership of at least one ITN. The ITN use gap was expressed as the difference between one and the ratio of use to access. The median proportion of users compared to those with access was high, at 82.1%. Even at population access levels below 50%, a median 80.6% used an ITN given they had access, and this rate increased to 91.2% for access rates above 50%. Linear regression of use against access showed that 89.0% of household members with access to nets used them the night before. These results clearly show that previous interpretations of the net use gap as a failure of behavioral change communication interventions were not justified and that the gap was instead primarily driven by lack of intra-household access. They also demonstrate the usefulness of the newly recommended ITN indicators; access to an ITN within the household provides a much more accurate comparison of ITN use than ownership.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Africa South of the Sahara / epidemiology
  • Animals
  • Culicidae / parasitology*
  • Family Characteristics
  • Health Surveys
  • Humans
  • Insect Vectors / parasitology*
  • Insecticide-Treated Bednets / economics
  • Insecticide-Treated Bednets / statistics & numerical data*
  • Malaria / epidemiology
  • Malaria / prevention & control*
  • Mosquito Control / methods
  • Ownership / economics
  • Ownership / statistics & numerical data*
  • Socioeconomic Factors

Grant support

This study was made possible by the generous support of the American people through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) under the terms of USAID/JHU Cooperative Agreement No. GHS-A-00-09-00014-00 for the NetWorks Project. The contents are the responsibility of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of USAID or the United States Government. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.