Nothing but Nets Campaign

  • Medicine & Health
  • 2006

Sportswriter Rick Reilly first learned about malaria’s toll in Africa from a BBC documentary. He was struck by the film’s rhetorical question: “Did you know that every day 3,000 children in Africa die of malaria, needlessly?” Reilly was even more impressed by the ready availability and low cost of one easy solution: $10 bed nets treated with insecticide. Reilly dedicated his May 5, 2006 Sports Illustrated column not to sports, but to malaria. He exhorted his readers to donate ten lifesaving dollars to an anti-malaria charity.

To his great surprise, the campaign collected over $1 million in its first month. Soon, celebrities and public figures lent their support to the campaign. Major League Soccer and the National Basketball Association became sponsors. The United Methodist Church and the Lutheran Church pledged to raise up to $100 million each. Corporate sponsors like Orkin Pest Control and Makita Tools joined in. The initiative soared primarily on a multitude of small donations from more than 70,000 individuals, averaging $60 each. Because Ted Turner’s $1 billion donation covering all of the administrative costs of the United Nations Foundation (which managed the Nothing But Nets funds), 100 percent of the giving went to mosquito nets (whose price dropped to $3 per net as production soared over the next several years).

While governments and international organizations have strived to eradicate malaria for years, Reilly’s campaign raised public-awareness cheaply and at unprecedented speed. Nothing But Nets made possible the distribution of more than 10 million mosquito nets to vulnerable residents of Africa. The effort primed the pump for the nearly simultaneous establishment of groups like Malaria No More, a charity that helped take the crusade to a larger scale. Founded in 2006 by financier, Wesray Capital principal, and philanthropist Raymond Chambers, it and many other allies made anti-malaria efforts an international phenomenon. As of 2017, well over a billion bednets have been delivered to Africa, along with millions of treatments and diagnostics. Annual malaria deaths dropped by half, saving about 400,000 lives every year.