The green net stands out in a heap of fishing gear in one of the boats at Liunda Beach on the shores of Lake Victoria in Bondo District.
It is a mosquito net that has been turned into fishing gear.
Intended for the bedroom to combat malaria, mosquito nets are fast finding a new role. This turn of events is raising concern among public health experts and fisheries managers.
Apart from reversing the gains made in the fight against malaria, this misuse also poses a risk to fish stocks in Lake Victoria.
According to Dr Ayub Manya, a senior official in the Ministry of Public Health, the use of mosquito nets among women and children in fighting malaria remains abysmally low in Bondo although the district leads among the areas in the country that have received nets.
The district has received a substantial number of nets from the Government and non-governmental organisations. This year, more than 20,000 nets have been distributed.
District deputy public health officer Asher Okanga says about 3,000 malaria nets received in November last year were distributed in the area in April.
A further 21,279 nets received from the Kenya Medical Research Institute/Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other organisations have also been distributed in the district in a recently concluded campaign against malaria.
This is in addition to the 46,000 that were distributed in 2006.
But instead of using the nets against the killer disease, Dr Manya says, communities along the lake are turning them into fishing gear.
He says some people are using the nets to dry small fish, locally known as omena.
In a recent net treatment programme conducted countrywide, most of the residents in Bondo District turned up with torn nets for exchange.
Concerned by the trend, the Public Health ministry, in conjunction with public health institutions, decided to change the colour of the mosquito nets to differentiate them from the white fishing ones. However, this has not helped matters.
Mr Okanga says the green-coloured nets are still finding their way onto beaches.
During routine patrols by a team of public health officials on the beaches last week, he adds, fishermen were found to be using them openly.
“It is easy to differentiate mosquito nets from the rest since they are made from nylon material,” he explains.
The misuse of bed nets has not been reported in Bondo District alone.
A recent study conducted jointly by researchers from Maseno University’s School of Public Health, the International Centre for Insect Physiology and Ecology and Nagasaki University in Japan reported similar findings in Suba District.
The study, whose findings were published online in a recent issue of the Malaria Journal, discovered that up to 83 per cent of beach areas in seven major fishing villages in Gembe West sub-district in Suba was covered by the mosquito nets. They were used for drying the fish.
In total, 283 mosquito nets were found to be in use. There were also 72 cases where the nets were used for fishing.
Apart from reversing the gains made in the fight against malaria, the misuse of the nets poses a threat to the already declining stocks in Lake Victoria.
Fisheries managers say the small mesh sizes of the mosquito nets could catch juvenile fish, thus threatening the sustainability of the resource.