On World Malaria Day, we celebrate the efforts of community health workers in protecting pregnant women from malaria
On World Malaria Day, the J.C. Flowers Foundation joins a global community of malaria elimination advocates in calling for additional investments to end the disease for good.
After years of steady progress towards elimination, malaria cases and deaths are on the rise. Disruptions in malaria services due to the COVID-19 pandemic and stagnating funding have contributed to an increased risk of malaria resurgence.
Despite these challenges, community health workers (CHWs) continue to persevere, doing all they can to eliminate malaria in their communities. CHWs like Mr. Chiwisa Luciano play an essential role in malaria elimination by diagnosing and treating malaria locally, providing malaria education, and encouraging the acceptance of malaria prevention tools such as insecticide treated nets, indoor residual spraying, and malaria medication for pregnant women.
Mr. Chisawa, who became a CHW in Livingstone District, Zambia in 2018, is passionate about protecting the most vulnerable populations from malaria, including pregnant women. Pregnant women are more likely than the general population to get severe malaria. And if a pregnant woman gets malaria, the disease can lead to low birth weight and premature birth for her baby. In 2019, a staggering 11.6 million pregnant women were infected with malaria in sub-Saharan Africa, with devastating consequences for both mothers and babies.
Sleeping under an insecticide treated bed net (ITN) and taking intermittent preventive treatment of malaria in pregnant women (IPTp) prevents pregnant women from getting malaria and increases the likelihood that their babies will grow well.
Last year, Mr. Chisawa and his fellow CHWs decided to collaborate with the local Safe Motherhood Action Group (SMAG) in his community of Libuyu to reach more pregnant women with malaria education and encouragement. SMAGs are community groups that help educate women and girls about maternal and neonatal issues.
In June of last year, Mrs. Dorothy Mubiana, a SMAG member in Libuyu, introduced Mr. Chisawa to a pregnant woman named Mrs. Helen Nawa. Mrs. Nawa did not own an ITN and didn’t think she needed one, since she did not believe that ITNs were effective at preventing malaria. She also did not understand the importance of taking IPTp when pregnant and was not attending antenatal care visits at her local health clinic.
Mr. Chiwisa and Mrs. Mubiana visited Mrs. Nawa’s house together and explained the importance of attending the antenatal clinic as soon as possible, the importance of taking IPTp during pregnancy, and the importance of proper nutrition. They explained that it was very important to sleep under an ITN every night as this would protect her from getting malaria through the bite of an infected mosquito. After learning about malaria through the education provided by Mr. Chiwisa, Mrs. Nawa realized that she and her unborn child were vulnerable to malaria.
Following the household visit with Mrs. Nawa, Mr. Chiwisa and Mrs. Mubina went to the health facility in Libuyu to advocate for an ITN for Mrs. Nawa. They received an ITN and delivered it to Mrs. Nawa, and they also made regular follow up visits at Mrs. Nawa’s home to ensure that she attended antenatal care appointments and that she was taking IPTp.
Last September, Mrs. Helen Nawa gave birth to a healthy child named Jeff. She thanked the volunteers for the help they rendered to her, and she appreciated their efforts to teach her more about malaria and how ITNs and IPTp can help protect her from it.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, the United States government and The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB, and Malaria provided critical support to malaria endemic countries to avert a worst-case scenario of a potential doubling of malaria deaths that had been initially projected by the World Health Organization early in the pandemic. And thanks to additional financial support from the Global Fund to protect malaria programs, the robust responses from countries, and the hard work of CHWs like Mr. Chisawa, many malaria services were able to continue despite the disruptions created by COVID-19 in 2020. In fact, the percent of pregnant women taking IPTp increased in 2020 by 1%, despite all the challenges presented by COVID-19.
This year – during the Global Fund’s Seventh Replenishment conference hosted by U.S. President Joe Biden – the world has an opportunity to invest more to protect hard-won gains against malaria and get back on track to reducing malaria cases and deaths. For the Seventh Replenishment, the Global Fund needs at least US$18 billion to fight HIV, TB and malaria and build stronger systems for health, and thus reinforce pandemic preparedness. This US$18 billion would cut malaria deaths by 62%, reduce malaria cases by 66%, and eliminate malaria from an additional six countries.
To help protect pregnant women like Mrs. Nawa from malaria, sign this letter from the RBM Partnership to End Malaria, urging policy makers to end malaria among mothers and babies.
Chris Flowers and Neville Isdell, Co-Founders of the Isdell:Flowers Cross Border Malaria Initiative, penned a Letter to the Editor in this week's The Economist.
"Malaria deaths globally have nearly halved since 2000, but the advances resulting from effective bed nets, insecticides and treatments have now stalled, and renewed investment in localised, data-driven strategies and in new tools is necessary to achieve the feasible goal of eliminating malaria within a generation."
On SADC Malaria Week, we applaud the critical work of the malaria volunteers who work tirelessly to defeat the disease in their communities. Sangoma Ndibi is one of more than 300 volunteers in Zambia that work with the Isdell:Flowers Cross Border Malaria Initiative and Zambia's National Malaria Elimination Programme.
Hear from Sangoma Ndibi in the video below.
Ahead of SADC Malaria Day, Religious Leaders Push for Malaira elimination in Western PRovince, Zambia
Today is SADC (Southern African Development Community) Malaria Day. We join a global community of malaria advocates in raising awareness about malaria, and we echo the important theme, "Community Involvement is Key to Achieving Zero Malaria."
Religious leaders have a critical role in advocating for malaria elimination and ensuring that communities affected by malaria are heard at the highest levels of government. Last week, more than 35 religious convened in Western Province, Zambia, to strengthen collaboration with the government in order to advance the fight against malaria.
Read a full report, originally published in All Africa, here.
In Zambia, threats of COVID-19 have coincided with peak malaria season – a time when vulnerable communities are most at risk for malaria outbreaks. This situation presents unique challenges for malaria program coordinators and field staff who are part of the Anglican Diocese of Lusaka Cross Border Malaria Initiative.
Monica Mvula, a program coordinator based in Mongu district, has facilitated the distribution of soap and PPE for malaria volunteers in Simulumbe, together with health facility staff. These items will help protect the volunteers from COVID-19 and will reduce the risk of community spread in the case that COVID-19 reaches Mongu. At the same time, Monica is doing all she can to address a malaria outbreak and stock outs of rapid malaria tests.
Monica shared information about a particularly concerning situation in Simulumbe in late April, where 195 malaria cases were diagnosed in just one week. After confirming these cases, the clinic ran out of rapid tests. Therefore, the actual number of cases was likely higher.
With support from the Isdell:Flowers Cross Border Malaria Initiative, Monica was able to urgently step in and provide the clinic with 225 rapid tests to ensure suspected malaria cases could be tested according to protocols.
Though malaria is spreading, it is being confronted by Monica and a team of trained malaria volunteers. As of today, Monica is continuing to follow up on untreated cases within her program areas in Mongu.
“This Disease – it has changed everything”: How COVID-19 Has Impacted Community Health Workers like Emmanuel Mutoya
Emmanuel Mutoya is a Community Health Worker in Liuwa Plain National Park – located in Western Province, Zambia. Liuwa park is home to tens of thousands of wild animals which live alongside a population of approximately 10,000 people, all of whom are at risk of malaria.
According to Emmanuel, much of his malaria work continues even as the COVID-19 pandemic threatens communities like his. During a conversation on May 7th, Emmanuel shared that he is still testing people with suspected malaria and treating those who are positive. In addition, Emmanuel still does active follow up of index cases; If someone tests positive for malaria, those living within 140 meters of the positive case are tested for malaria and treated if positive.
This photo, taken before the COVID-19 pandemic, shows Emmanuel conducting a rapid diagnostic test in the Salunda health facility catchment area.
Emmanuel shared that COVID-19 has introduced fear into his interactions with clients.
“When people come to us, especially people who we don’t know where they are coming from, they bring fear to us,” he explained. “But we test them.”
CHWs like Emmanuel now have PPE and soap. Emmanuel wears a mask when he tests a client, and the client wears a mask as well.
Emmanuel explained that the way he provides malaria education to his community has changed drastically since the COVID-19 pandemic began. He used to bring large groups of people together to provide malaria education, but now this is done on a person-to-person basis, and fewer people are being reached.
“We still sensitize those who come to us who are sick – so we talk to them and give them education about how they can prevent malaria,” he explained. “But it is not like the way we used to do it where we can bring a lot of people together.”
Funding from the J.C. Flowers Foundation’s Isdell:Flowers Cross Border Malaria Initiative (IFCBMI) supported the training of a cadre of Community Health Workers (CHWs), including Emmanuel, in 2017. These CHWs are trained by Zambia’s National Malaria Elimination Centre, and are supported and supervised by IFCBMI’s partner, the Anglican Diocese of Lusaka Cross Border Malaria Initiative.
In the midst of our efforts towards malaria elimination, COVID-19 has grasped our attention as a new, dangerous, and still poorly understood threat.
We collectively seek to end COVID for the same reasons we seek to end malaria. We fight both COVID-19 and malaria because they limit development at the family, community, and national levels. We fight both COVID-19 and malaria because they squelch economic opportunities for families and nations. Ultimately, we fight both COVID-19 and malaria because they steal our precious and rich lives, and even one life lost prematurely is one life too many.
Though COVID-19 is still poorly understood, we know how to prevent, diagnose, and cure malaria. The loss of 430,000 people each year to malaria is not inevitable. Now, more than ever, we must not let ourselves become distracted from the efforts that we know contribute to malaria’s elimination.
Worryingly, a modelling analysis from the World Health Organization shows that a de-prioritization of malaria interventions could lead to a doubling of malaria deaths. Under the worst-case scenario, in which all insecticide-treated net campaigns are suspended and there is a 75% reduction in access to effective antimalarial medicines, the estimated tally of malaria deaths in sub-Saharan Africa in 2020 would reach 769,000, twice the number of deaths reported in the region in 2018. This would represent a return to malaria mortality levels last seen in the year 2000.
Now is a time for malaria partners to unite to fight. We’re joining the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria in calling attention to the critical need to maintain the gains the world has made towards malaria elimination.
Led by The Global Fund, The Unite To Fight campaign highlights the critical role health workers in saving lives.
As part of this campaign, we will be sharing insights and brief stories from communities where the Isdell:Flowers Cross Border Malaria Initiative is working in partnership with national malaria control and elimination programs to defeat malaria.
In the coming weeks, we will share the efforts of malaria activists and health workers like Emmanuel Mutoya from Western Province, Zambia, who continue to fight each and every day for malaria elimination.
Faith leaders and J.C. Flowers Foundation partners are advocating for malaria elimination this World Malaria Day. Read statements from The Right Revered David Njovu, Sheikh Dr. Shaban Phiri, and The Right Reverend Andre Soares below.
Statement from Rt. Rev. David Njovu and Sheikh Dr. Shaban Phiri
This statement originally appeared on Zambia's End Malaria Council webpage.
"Today, in celebration of World Malaria Day, we call on all Zambians to join us in praying for the sick, caring for the afflicted, and protecting those whom are vulnerable to malaria.
Malaria affects more than 5 million Zambians each year. It weakens our families and kills pregnant women and our children. Defeating it must be a priority and a spiritual necessity.
Our faith teaches us that even the smallest things can be powerful and are worthy of our attention. In the Quran, Allah is “not ashamed to set forth any parable, even that of a mosquito” (Holy Quran 2:25). Although mosquitoes may be very small, they are the deadliest creatures on Earth because of the even smaller diseases they transmit. When we ignore the mosquito and malaria, we weaken our faith and our health.
Faith also demands that we care for ourselves (“Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God?” 1 Corinthians 6:19-20); our families (“Anyone who does not provide for their relatives, and especially for their own household, has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.” 1 Timothy 5:8); and our communities (“Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfil the law of Christ.” Galatians 6:2). Luckily, fulfilling our spiritual duty is easy: (1) sleep under a mosquito net every night, (2) go to a community health worker or clinic if you or your family member has a fever, and (3) make sure that your neighbours are aware of the risks of malaria and take precautions too.
If you do not do these things, then remember the proverb: “A prudent person foresees danger and takes precautions. The simpleton goes blindly on and suffers the consequences.” (Proverbs 27:12).
We also call on faith leaders across the country to ensure that all Zambians are protected against malaria. We have a weekly platform to promote prudent behaviours amongst our flock. We also participate in pivotal moments, such as baptisms, when we can educate parents about the importance of sleeping under a mosquito net. If they do not have a net, there will be a nationwide campaign to distribute them this year.
Along with our fellow members of the End Malaria Council and all Zambians, we declare that 'malaria ends with me.'"
Statement from Rt. Rev. Andre Soares
"On this World Malaria Day 2020, we remember the memory of our beloved and fellow countrymen, lost by malaria disease, a preventable and curable disease.
With good reason, and with the hope of avoiding unnecessary deaths while this possibility still exists, the world is paying attention to COVID-19's raging and violent illness.
And in the midst of this COVID-19 pandemic, we must pay equal attention to a disease that kills even more people annually: malaria.
Everyone is taking action to prevent COVID-19, and if we had a treatment, everyone would rush to get it. But we already have ways of preventing malaria, and we already have a cure for malaria, but we do not facilitate and enjoy sufficient access to these precious resources.
Each of us has to take our responsibility to avoid this malaria disease that is devastating us. For us in positions of responsibility that decide how to invest our resources, we must prioritize the response to this vicious disease. For those of us who have mosquito nets, we must sleep under it daily, even in the heat. For those of us who have a voice of influence, we must encourage those we lead to take appropriate action. For those of us who manage health systems, we must establish efficient input distribution systems. The motto for World Malaria Day is “Zero Malaria Starts With Me” - and truly, each of us has a role.
We serve a God who desires life in abundance for his people. As Moses urged the people of Israel: CHOOSE LIFE, NOT DEATH!
For a malaria-free generation!"
-Dom André Soares, Bishop of the Diocese of Angola, Anglican Church
Responding to Malaria Outbreaks During the COVID-19 Pandemic: The Anglican Cross Border Malaria Initiative in Zimbabwe Continues to Fight against Malaria
It was the first week in March when Shepherd Mahlahleni, a field officer for the Diocese of Matabeleland’s Anglican Cross Border Malaria Initiative (ACBMI) in Zimbabwe first heard news of a possible malaria outbreak in the Negande area of Kariba District. Mahlahleni received phone calls from three village health workers (VHWs) – Tiller Mpofu, Simuguka Siamwiriyo and Sekai Zandu – alerting him of the malaria cases.
VHWs like Mpofu, Siamwiriyo, and Zandu are trained by Zimbabwe’s Ministry of Health and Child Welfare to carryout essential malaria education, rapid testing, and treatment for those who test positive for malaria. Because they are selected by and live in the communities they serve, they are often the first to detect emerging malaria outbreaks.
While it is not uncommon for areas like Negande to experience an increase in the number of malaria cases during March and April (the rainy season), the number of new cases in Negande was a cause for concern for Mahlahleni and the Kariba District Health Office.
As the district began dealing with the urgent needs arising from the COVID-19 pandemic, it became difficult to maintain the normal level of prioritization for malaria activities, Shepherd noted. Routine malaria education and sensitization were not occurring with the same level of intensity as past years, and health staff that typically focus on malaria-related activities were conducting other activities such as food aid distribution.
As fears of COVID-19 spread among rural communities, so did malaria.
In response, Mahlahleni and Muchenje Oswell, the District Environmental Health Officer in Kariba District, visited Negande in March to investigate the malaria cases. They discovered mosquito breeding sites in stagnant bodies of water, which are also a source of water for the nearby communities for household use. They also discovered a shortage of rapid malaria tests in the Negande health clinic because so many more people than normal had presented with fevers.
Those most affected by the malaria outbreak were adults who engage in farming activities along the river soon after the rains, Mahlahleni and Oswell reported. These farmers leave their permanent houses to stay in temporary structures in order to guard their crops from wild animals, therefore exposing themselves to mosquito bites.
Following the trip to Negande, Mahlahleni prioritized the redistribution of rapid tests from a local pharmacy near his office to Negande so that all of Negande’s VHWs and the health centre were fully equipped to test all those who needed a malaria test. VHWs intensified their community education, including encouraging increased prevention measures, such as wearing long sleeves.
Like many countries across Southern Africa, Zimbabwe is under lockdown orders with the goal of preventing the spread of COVID-19. Under the supervision of Zimbabwe’s National Malaria Control Programme and ACBMI, which works in partnership with the J.C. Flowers Foundation’s Isdell:Flowers Cross Border Malaria Initiative (IFCBMI), VHWs in Negande have continued to conduct malaria education within the community while observing COVID-19 social distancing guidelines. They are sharing messages on malaria prevention and encouraging those with fevers to go to a VHW or their local clinic for testing. The number of malaria cases has decreased.
Despite these efforts, Mahlahleni worries that the progress made by ACBMI, in partnership with IFCBMI and Zimbabwe’s National Malaria Control Programme in reducing cases in Kariba district, could be reversed.
Unfortunately, Negande is one of many communities in Zimbabwe that is experiencing additional challenges during what is already peak malaria season.
As the world struggles to respond to COVID-19, there is a significant risk that prevention and treatment programs for malaria will be disrupted, despite guidance from the World Health Organization that states malaria activities should continue.
As we celebrate World Malaria Day on April 25th, it is important to acknowledge that current investments in malaria are saving almost 600,000 lives and preventing nearly 100 million cases a year. Efforts to limit the spread of COVID-19 are necessary to protect health systems, enabling them to continue to serve the population throughout the crisis. At the same time, these efforts must continue to preserve access to life-saving malaria prevention, diagnosis and treatment services or threaten to reverse decades of hard-fought progress against malaria.
Sights Set on Malaria Eradication: Traditional and Religious Leaders Convene with National Governments, Leading Scientists, and Communities Affected by Malaria at 2020 Isdell:Flowers Round Table
This article was originally published on All Africa.
LIVINGSTONE, ZAMBIA — February 28 2020 – The global community has its sights set on malaria eradication. The Lancet Commission on Malaria Eradication’s report, Malaria eradication within a generation: ambitious, achievable, and necessary , released in September 2019, laid out necessary steps to eradicate malaria – a preventable disease that continues to affect the most vulnerable communities throughout Africa – by 2050. The World Health Organization’s Strategic Advisory Group on Malaria Eradication (SAGme), which released an executive summary of its findings in August 2019, will soon publish a full report that analyzes future scenarios for malaria and reaffirms that eradication is a goal worth pursuing, likely to save millions of lives and billions of dollars. Experts involved in both bodies of research recognized the importance of community-driven responses to malaria eradication, as well as the development of new tools and technologies, increased funding, and national-level leadership for malaria eradication.
Read the full article here.