Canadian Customs Seize Mosquito Nets and Condoms Intended for AIDS Conference

Henry Neondo | 15 Aug 2006

Canadian Customs Seize Mosquito Nets and

Condoms Intended for AIDS Conference

Toronto - Canadian customs officials have seized and detained 1000 separate packages of insecticide-treated mosquito nets and condoms en route to the 16th International AIDS Conference in Toronto this week on the grounds that the nets contain pesticides that should not be imported into the country.

The packages are being held in customs in spite of the fact that the World Health Organization (WHO) has certified that the insecticide-treated mosquito nets are perfectly safe, and that the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) sends the very same mosquito nets to African countries.

Moreover, the mosquito nets were not even intended for use in Canada. They were to be distributed to African women attending the AIDS conference - especially those who are pregnant or HIV positive - for them to take back for use in their homes to protect themselves and their children from malaria. Each packet contained one mosquito net and a number of condoms.

"We came here to promote prevention of both HIV/AIDS and malaria," said Louis Da Gama of Global Health Advocates, a NGO mobilizing society against diseases of poverty. "We wanted to provide African women attending this conference with something very practical, given the interaction of AIDS and malaria. We are astounded and very disappointed that a completely safe product which Canada purchases for other countries cannot be distributed at this important conference."

The shipment of mosquito nets and condoms was eagerly anticipated as new information about the interaction between HIV/AIDS and malaria has been emerging at the conference. HIV makes malaria more prevalent and severe, reducing the effectiveness of anti-malaria drugs. HIV and malaria also make the outcome of pregnancy worse, causing increased maternal anemia, low birth weight and infant deaths.

The mosquito nets are a recently-developed "long lasting" type which can last up to five years using a safe insecticide known as deltamethrin. They are valued at approximately $5.00 each, but are usually given away for free to those in Africa and other endemic regions who cannot afford them.

The nets are considered a vital component of malaria control efforts. Currently, there are more than 500 million cases of malaria each year worldwide, resulting in one million deaths. Nearly 80 percent of these deaths are among children under five years of age. Most of these deaths are in Africa.

"The World Health Organization confirms that these long lasting insecticidal nets pose absolutely no health risk to Canadians, nor to anyone else in the world," said Dr Arata Kochi, head of WHO's Global Malaria Department, who is attending the conference. "The only threat they pose is to mosquitoes. I don't think Canadian custom officials want to protect mosquitoes."

In the past Canada has been a leading force in mosquito net distribution, but CIDA support for bed net programs has fallen from CAD $20 million in 2005 to just CAD $9 million in 2006. In 2005, CIDA funded a massive mosquito net campaign in Africa. Working together with the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB and Malaria, they distributed millions of long-lasting insecticide-treated mosquito nets in five African countries. Over 2 million nets were distributed in Niger alone. In Niger it is estimated that the program will have already saved the lives of 40,000 children this year.

"Given the desperate need of millions of poor people for protection from the ravages of malaria, this funding decline is unconscionable," said RESULTS President Blaise Salmon. "This conference should be an opportunity for Canada to show leadership and boost malaria funding back to where it should be, not embarrass ourselves by blocking nets at the border."

The mosquito nets being shipped to Toronto were to be featured at a special session at the conference Thursday morning on "Empowering HIV-positive Women and their Families to Demand Prevention and Treatment Interventions for Malaria." Da Gama, a British national who is co-chairing the session, promised the session would proceed as planned.

"Having camped and fished in Canada, I can understand how some folks here would treasure holding on to some of these excellent mosquito-repelling nets," said Da Gama. "But mosquito bites in Lesotho have much more serious consequences than those in Ontario. I really hope Canadian officials will understand this, reconsider, and let us give these nets to the African women visiting here."

For more information, contact Jove Oliver at 1-647-833-8653 or Labib El-Ali at 1-613-262-8653