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.