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What do bednets and Trabant cars have in common?

February 3, 2010 - 16:08 -- Bart G.J. Knols

There is a good reason for putting out a large variety of products with similar function on the market – like cars. It simply has to do with our innate differences in preference with regard to colour, shape, make, etc. Some like a blue car, others a white or a red one. And, suprise surprise, the great level of differentation means that almost everyone can find a car that matches his/her preferences at an affordable price....

In the former Soviet Union they did not care about this. “A car is a car, and all it should do is take you from A to B”, the soviets reasoned.  “One size fits all”. A good example is the Trabant car, originally produced in East Germany. Now what does this have to do with bednets?


1)   Trabants were scarce, and if you ordered one it could take up to 15 years before you got it. Availability was the problem, and so it was (for a long time) for bednets. Only the last few years have seen a dramatic increase in uptake and availability…


2)   Trabants were not differentiated and all models looked basically the same. For years, the sole colour was white. And that is what we see with bednets – most are white. Although some other colours are seen (green, blue), most of what is out there is white.


3)   Trabants were cumbersome in use. Refueling the car required lifting the hood, filling the tank with gasoline (only 24 litres), then adding two-stroke oil and shaking it back and forth to mix. Its pollution was 9 times higher than the average European car of 2007. Nets are still cumbersome too. People don’t want to use them because they are too hot to occupy during the night, daily use (crawling in and out, tugging it under the mattress or mat) is not nice, and there is concern (at WHO level) about the huge amounts of pyrethroids that will remain on nets, after being discarded as waste, when these enter the environment.


Nets have been ‘marketed’ as a good tool against malaria (which is correct of course), but without any real consideration of the client’s perspective. The communist view on the Trabant is what we see with nets in Africa today.


Not surprisingly, we see worrying reports about the use of nets, recently reported in Malaria Journal and on In Burkina Faso people stopped using them within a year after receiving them for free. Lack of knowledge, that malaria transmission went on in the dry season, even when there are few mosquitoes, is a major concern. But what if we would differentiate the product and make it more desirable, practical, and even beautiful?


Standard nets are dull, but what if you would have them in a large variety of colours? And what if they would have prints on them (the logo of Manchester United printed on a net would be loved by all these young schoolboys in Tanzania!). Or a name printed on them, or whatever. Surely kids will prefer something more flashy. Adding a zip would make life a lot easier, getting in and out of the net. Add a small pouch for a condom and use the net to prevent HIV/AIDS. Or add some nice print on it that women can embroid.


As slowly but surely the African market gets saturated with nets, there is a lot of scope for differentiation to satisfy customer needs, hithereto a neglected area. More so, this differentiation may provide opportunities for local small entrepreneurs in endemic countries. Innovation in the area of bednets is not complete, it has only just started.



Mark Benedict's picture
Submitted by Mark Benedict on

Absolutely! Nets are a highly personal and intrusive intervention. Making them attractive, more versatile and enjoyable to use is a simple way to increase uptake.

Who knows? Maybe commercial entities would even be willing to print and distribute them free. Since I'm from Atlanta, I want mine emblazoned with the sweeping red Coca-cola logo!

Submitted by Ricardo Ataide on

I agree with Mark. I actually believe that with the world cup in Africa this year, it would have been a fantastic opportunity to use bednets imprinted with either team logos or players. Sport (especially football) is eagerly followed in Africa. I think we should take advantage of this. Maybe talking with organizations like FIFA or directly with the major leagues in europe (England, Italy, Spain).

Ricardo Ataíde

Usa Lek-Uthai's picture
Submitted by Usa Lek-Uthai on

i have a cover net (pink color) with printed sweet flowers. i always carry and use when i go to the community (very confortable and making sweet dream...;)) actually i 'd like to prevent myself from the gecko:((

Usa Lek-Uthai,
Mahidol University,
Bangkok, Thailand

Partho Dhang's picture
Submitted by Partho Dhang on

Is there any study which has measured temperature, humidity and air quality inside and outside a bed net while in use? Various materials and at different conditions.

Partho Dhang


Bart G.J. Knols's picture
Submitted by Bart G.J. Knols on

Does anybody out there know if it is possible to print on nets? What is the technology to do this? Is this commercially available? Any companies that anybody knows of?

Usa Lek-Uthai's picture
Submitted by Usa Lek-Uthai on

Please go to 1. ....
and more at.... 2.

(if there have Thai language page please ask me to translate:)

THAI BEDNETS MANUFACTURE CO., LTD. was established since 1958 conducting this field of business for 40 years,
Throughout our age, we mainly supply mosquito nets to many government and International organizations such as

Such a long time experience make many customers (especially UNICEF) accept us as a highquality mosquito nets supplier in Thailand. Validated by long term business with many reliable customers, we routinely produce , at least 250,000 - 300,000 pieces up of mosquito nets a month allocatedboth domestic and export markets. As the products are made in their own factory , they therefore could assure the customers of high quality items with best price. Some of the mosquito nets they produce are:
- Mosquito nets fabric polyester 100 % nylon 100 % and cotton 100 %
- Rectangular mosquito nets with insecticides-treatment.
- Impregnated mosquito net with, permethrin , Deltamethrin, Cyfluthrin, Etofenprox, lambda cyhalothrin, Alpha cypermethrin
- Circular mosquito net with rattan ring , plastic ring , stainless ring in any sizes and colors as ordered.
Should you need any further information (yes to print to nets or any), please do not hesitate to contact the company directly (i have just search from the internet in Thai language and found it).


Usa Lek-Uthai,
Mahidol University,
Bangkok, Thailand