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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Micro-Loans, Insecticide-Treated Bednets and Malaria: Evidence from a Randomized Controlled Trial in Orissa (India)


Many severe health risks in developing countries could be substantially reduced with access to appropriate preventive measures. However, the associated costs are often high enough to restrict access among poor households, and free provision through public health campaigns is often not financially feasible. We describe findings from the first large-scale cluster randomized controlled trial in a developing country context that evaluates the uptake of a health-protecting technology, insecticide-treated bednets (ITNs), through micro-consumer loans, as compared to free distribution and control conditions. Numerous studies have shown that widespread, regular use of ITNs is one the most effective preventive measures against malaria. However, ownership rates remain very low in most malarious areas, including our study areas in rural Orissa (India). Despite the un-subsidized price, 52 percent of sample households purchased at least one ITN, leading to 16 percent of individuals using a treated net the previous night, relative to only 2 percent in control areas where nets were not offered for sale. However, the increase fell significantly short of the 47 percent previous-night usage rate achieved with free distribution. Most strikingly, we find that neither micro-loans nor free distribution led to improvements in malaria and anemia prevalence, measured using blood tests. We examine and rule out several plausible explanations for this latter finding. We conjecture that insufficient ITN coverage is the most likely explanation, and discuss implications for public health policy.

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