9 February 2008
Reported by: Bankelele in Arusha

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Taking up where he left off yesterday, Kenyan blogger Bankelele reports from the opening of a bed net factory in Arusha – helped by the electricity supply brought in for a coffee urn.

In the absence of a reporting area, I go back to my seat next to the coffee urn and power up my laptop to cover the speeches.

11:30 AM : The vice president’s motorcade snakes in, leading a train of SUVs carrying aides, security and ambassadors. If the Kenyan government has adopted the Mercedes E- class as the car of choice for dignitaries, here it is definitely the Toyota Land Cruiser.

11:45 AM: The MC, Mr. Somji, who’s an elder member of the Rotary Club, greets the guests,   including the Vice President of the Republic of Uganda, D. Ali Mohammed Shein, the minister of trade, the British high commissioner, Japan’s ambassador to Tanzania, the CEOs of A to Z Textile Mills and Sumitomo (the Tanzanian and multinational companies who partnered to start the factory), the country director of USAID, Roll Back Malaria executives and their goodwill ambassador, Yvonne Chaka Chaka, and guests from about 15 countries.

Yvonne Chaka Chaka gives the opening speech and remarks that we are happy to be starting the (late) event, noting that the Princess of Africa does not like to wait – unless it’s for a good thing. She says the venture that is being launched is one that saves African lives and gives African women jobs (over 90 percent of the employees are women) and that we must win the (malaria) war for Africa. And sings a brief a capella rhyme and gets a flower for her efforts from the MC.

11:50 AM: Dr. A. Meru, director general of Tanzania’s Export Processing Zones Authority (EPZA), talks about Tanzania’s Vision 2025 which is to convert from an agricultural country to a semi-industrialized one. Strategies adopted towards this include the adoption of new trade policies, an SME policy, the strengthening of private sector participation, providing market opportunities and systems and promoting exports.

He says that the A to Z and Sumitomo partnership is an example of the kind of venture they had in mind. Under the EPZ Act of 2002, 24 companies have been granted licences, and 16 are for operations. These companies have invested U.S. $147 million and currently employ 6,500 workers in EPZs.

He cites A to Z as one of the most important investors in Tanzania, and said when the venture was conceived in September 2005, the government constructed a tarmac road and facilitated power and water supplies to the factory. The government plans to set up five more EPZs around the country and will target textile, herbal, leather, fish, wood and ICT companies.

12:00 PM: The CEO of A to Z, Mr. Anuj Shah talked about the Olyset nets which are guaranteed for five years and are the only ones recommended by the World Health Organisation (WHO). They were first manufactured in September 2003, he says, and production since then has risen dramatically. In 2005 the area occupied by the new factory was just a bare field. Now, of the company’s 5,000 employees, 3,200 produce the nets.

Mr. Shah said malaria was Africa’s No.1 killer disease, and Sumitomo had allowed the transfer of technology royalty-free to enable production. The venture was a result of the combination of the Japanese multi-national’s scientific technology and A to Z’s manufacturing and marketing.

He appealed to the donor community and development partners who supplied nets to buy African-made nets. He mentioned that after nets were procured, additional costs increased the price of nets. The ex-factory cost of nets made in Africa would always be higher than those made in Asia – since raw materials had to be imported – but if the additional cost of getting them to their destinations were added, nets produced in Africa were cheaper. He noted that last year A to Z would have lost a contract to supply nets to the Government of Uganda if ex-factory prices had been the only measure used.

He asked why, if 90 percent of malaria deaths are in Africa, should we import bed nets? By buying African nets, donors could create employment and generate more revenue and bring prosperity to Africa.

12:14 PM: The president of Sumitomo Chemicals, Hiromasa Yonekura , was next and said the collaboration began in 2003. Sumitomo started making nets in the early 90s and made them durable by impregnating them with pesticides. The slow release of chemicals from the nets enabled them to last for five years, during which time they could be repeatedly washed.

WHO recommended the nets in 2001 and demand grew as their reputation became known. Sumitomo decided to increase capacity, culminating in the joint venture with A to Z – operating under the name Vector Health International. He thanked organizations for their support, especially the MD and staff of A to Z. He said businesses must benefit communities and societies, not just themselves, and that had been the case in the 95-year history of Sumitomo.

Malaria claims one million lives a year, he said. It prevents kids from going to school and parents from going to work, and Africa loses an estimated $12 billion annually in productivity.

Olyset nets provide a powerful solution, Mr. Yonekura said. The cost-effective production of a sustainable supply of nets would help to achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDG), including eradicating malaria, by 2015. Employment is one of the building blocks for economic development (the venture employs thousands from manufacturing to sales) and Sumitomo is also considering establishing plants in Malawi, Uganda, Kenya, and Mozambique. He said some of the money realised from the Olyset nets has been ploughed back to build schools in Africa, including seven in Tanzania, in partnership with World Vision Japan.

He finished by saying that Africa has great potential and the world has lost out as a result of poverty and disease keeping Africa from realising it. Japan, he said, will host the 4th Tokyo international conference on Africa development in May and the G8 Summit in July. He noted that he chairs a private partnership in Japan for Africa, and said the country plans to expand production and contribute to economic development on the continent. He ended with a Swahili quote that a journey begins with one step.

12:27 PM: Dr. D. Mmbando, the director of preventive services in Tanzania’s ministry of health, said malaria was the leading cause of health care visits in the country and noted that because most malaria-related deaths occur at home, many were not included in government statistics. He said the country had 18 million malaria occurrences and 10,000 deaths a year.

But malaria is preventable, and can be reduced by (1) using treated nets (which must be accessible to vulnerable people), (2) using residual spray, (3) prompt treatment, such as that with drugs such as Artemesin (4) proving information to the public to induce behaviour change, and strengthening the health system.

He said the Tanzanian government was working towards these goals by (1) distributing long-lasting nets to all children aged between one and five years, and – if resources allowed it – by giving three nets to every household from May 2008, (2) scaling up indoor spraying, starting in Muregwa and Karage districts and later expanding to 60 others, (3) changing treatment therapy to the medicine known as ALU (which costs 3,300 shillings), and spreading a country-wide message of behaviour change. These efforts should see malaria intervention reach 80 percent the country and health and income will go up as a result

12:34 PM: Pamela White, the USAID country director for Tanzania, welcomed partnerships like the joint venture. Much success has been achieved in Tanzania as a result of donors working together – and she mentioned President Bush’s malaria initiative.

She said her experiences in Tanzania have been the most remarkable of her 30-year development career. We can’t eradicate malaria with one solution, but the use of multiple interventions has worked well.

In Zanzibar, 40 percent of the population had malaria parasites in 2005. In 2006 the figure had gone down to five percent and in 2007 to about one percent. She added that 250,000 nets have been distributed in Zanzibar, all from the Arusha factory. While previously 24 percent of children were sleeping under nets, that number is now 74 percent, with similar results with pregnant women.

She finished by saying that Sumitomo and A to Z do not simply make nets – they save lives.

12:39 PM: Mr. Julian Fleet of Roll Back Malaria (RBM) said the partnership was an example of what RBM hoped to promote. Much had been achieved as a result of commitment at the highest levels of government in Africa and work of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria.

In addition to the transformation in Zanzibar, countries such as Kenya and Rwanda have run campaigns of mass net distribution, leading to a 50 percent reduction in malaria-related deaths. Still, he lamented that children continue to die unnecessarily. This could be averted if help was made universally accessible to those in need.

12:49 PM : Dr. Ali Mohamed Shein , Vice President of the United Republic of Tanzania, apologized for President Kikwete’s absence and proceeded to read the president’s speech.

He said it was heart-warming to see a Tanzanian enterprise work with a reputable international company. This is a clear signal to other potential investors that the country is hospitable and safe. The government is committed to winning more investors and has initiated some reforms to enhance this.

He noted that foreign direct investment (FDI) has improved in the last decade – and the country was ranked 36 out of 140 countries as a favourable FDI destination. The government would continue to fight bureaucracy and reduce corruption, he said, and this has renewed investor confidence.

He lamented that malaria places a heavy burden on Africa – in Tanzania 30 percent of the burden of disease is due to malaria. It forms a barrier to economic growth and perpetuates poverty. Using nets can reduce child mortality by 40 percent, he said.

He said Olyset nets are superior to treated nets – they are tough, durable, wash-proof, never need re-treatment, cost effective and long lasting. But there was some concern about how they will reach vulnerable people,   he said, and called partners to continue to support the endeavour. He thanked the companies involved and gave an assurance that the government would provide infrastructure and support for other initiatives with the private sector.

1:03 PM: The ceremony is over, and the two CEOs hand over a cheque to the Vice President for 1,000 Olyset nets – for him to distribute to any village.

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