Combatting Malaria in Zambia, One Mosquito Net at a Time

During 2013 and 2014, the Government of Zambia is undertaking the mass distribution of nearly nine million insecticide-treated mosquito nets, distributing to all provinces across the country. Working together with donors, the UN community, faith-based organizations, civil society, and the private sector, all of the country's ten provinces will be covered. 

As a large part of the national mass distribution plan, the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria has supported the procurement and delivery of 4.8 million nets to six provinces. In collaboration with the Government of Zambia, three UN agencies – UNDP, UNICEF and WFP – have worked side-by-side to ensure the nets reached 8.2 million people.

As the Principal Recipient of Global Funds grants for malaria-based project in Zambia, UNDP ensured the programme's successful design, implementation and monitoring -- and that also meant contracting UNICEF to head the procurement and manufacturing of the nets in nearby Tanzania, and WFP to transport them to 980 health centers once they arrived in Zambia.

But delivering millions of the nets across thousands of kilometres comes with its challenges. Complex supply chains, challenging road conditions and remote locations could have hampered delivery efforts in Zambia. However, through close collaboration with partners and a sound logistics plan, these obstacles were overcome.

The Beginning of a Challenging Operation

In mid-April, UNICEF-contracted trucks set off from Arusha, Tanzania for Lusaka, Zambia, carrying millions of mosquito nets. WFP was able to assist UNDP in the transport and distribution of the nets to 980 health centers in six provinces, taking over from UNICEF as soon as the nets arrived in-country.

All three UN agencies worked hard to minimise delays and guarantee that the nets arrived in time for the rainy season, when malaria is most prevalent. To support timely delivery, the logistics team at WFP operated against a tight deadline, as they began designing the concept of operations and contracting suitable transporters for each province.

Designing the Concept of Operations

Lusaka was originally planned to serve as a centralized logistics hub for receipt, storage and dispatch of the nets, but after an assessment of the initial plan, WFP’s logistics staff determined the influx of cargo could cause delays.

With this in mind, the team revised the strategy and set-up a network of eight in-country storage hubs, based in six provinces. These were managed by WFP-contracted staff and supervised by independent inspectors, whereby the nets could easily be dispatched to individual districts according to a pre-planned schedule. WFP acted fast to divert the majority of UNICEF-contracted trucks directly to the new hubs, instead of going to Lusaka.

Finding the Right Transporters

At the same time, the logistics team quickly connected with Zambia-based partners to identify and secure local transport capacity to bring the nets from the hubs to the health centers. The Truckers Association of Zambia was their first point of contact for suitable contractors, who would be best placed to navigate tough terrain to remote locations under a tight delivery deadline. The Association recommended WFP to liaise with Zambia’s Food Reserve Agency (FRA) for a well-vetted shortlist of transporters.

After receiving the FRA’s Top 5 contractors from each province, WFP made their selections. Each transporter was subjected to a normal WFP shortlisting process, which included the completion of a WFP transport questionnaire and the implementation of other internal control mechanisms for efficient land transport contracting.

"Malaria is a killer disease. With these mosquito nets, my family will be protected."  –Benjamin Satenda, Mufumbwe, North Western Province of Zambia

Navigating Tough Terrain to Remote Locations

Reaching remote health centres was also difficult due to challenging road conditions. One of WFP’s top priorities was to contract drivers and transport companies that had in-depth knowledge of the local environment and relevant driving routes. It was a key factor in constructing viable delivery schedules. For those health centres that were said to be inaccessible, local knowledge enabled logistics staff to implement contingency plans to finalize deliveries.

Deploying New Technology

During the operation, WFP also deployed new technologies and a specialised Relief Item Tracking System (RITA), developed and maintained by logistics staff in WFP’s Headquarters in Rome, Italy. For each batch of mosquito nets that set off for delivery, WFP assigned a Quick Response (QR) code (read this story for more), which encrypted a GPS location and other key delivery information. By scanning a QR code with a mobile phone, WFP and partners could quickly view where and when a certain batch of cargo had been dispatched. To make this possible, data was collected from the local level and inputted into RITA by Zambia-based staff and superintendents, who collectively monitored 48 districts on a daily basis. This technology was a good compliment to a complex operation, which saw around 900 trucks transport 4.8 million mosquito over thousands of kilometres.

A Job Complete

Between mid-April and the beginning of August, 100% of the nets had been dispatched by UNICEF from Arusha, Tanzania, and delivered by WFP to health centres across Zambia. From this point, the Churches Health Association of Zambia (CHAZ) and the Ministry of Health are organizing door-to-door distributions to ensure that each household is personally delivered the right number of nets. Health workers and volunteers from the communities are coming together to support the distribution, whereby the Government of Zambia aims to provide universal coverage of bed spaces.