Tara Bracken, PhD
Malaria Communications and Advocacy Officer, United Nations Foundation
For any new mother, the months before delivery can be an exciting, albeit stressful time. But imagine being pregnant in a place where a deadly disease claims the lives of 10,000 mothers and 200,000 infants every year.
For the 125 million pregnant women at risk of malaria every year, there’s no need to imagine – that’s the reality they face every day.
Malaria can be dangerous wherever it is found, but in pregnancy, it becomes a particularly serious problem. Maternal malaria places not one, but two people at risk – both mother and baby.
If left untreated, malaria puts the mother at risk of anaemia and even death. However, it is especially dangerous for the developing baby. Maternal malaria can cause premature birth or low birth weight (less than 2.5 kg), placing a baby at higher risk of stunted growth, impaired development and death – if the child is born at all.
Working to prevent malaria
Thankfully, we know how to prevent maternal malaria before it happens. Ensuring mothers have access to quality prenatal care, an insecticide-treated bed net and intermittent preventive treatment in pregnancy are simple and cost-effective ways to prevent the dangers malaria poses for both mother and child.
We’ve come a long way to providing access to these life-saving interventions in the last several decades. Still, far too many mothers remain unprotected. According to the 2020 World Health Organization World Malaria Report (WMR), two-thirds of pregnant women living in Sub-Saharan Africa received insufficient or no preventive treatment in 2019, leaving millions of mothers and their babies at risk.
The 2020 WMR reported that if mothers receive even one dose of preventive treatment when they received prenatal care, an estimated additional 56,000 low birth weights could be avoided. If that many babies could be protected by just one dose of preventive treatment, imagine how many could be saved if all mothers were able to receive the recommended three doses.
The 2020 WMR reported that if mothers receive even one dose of preventive treatment when they received prenatal care, an estimated additional 56,000 low birth weights could be avoided.
Global communities joining the fight
The “Speed Up Scale Up” call to action rallies global communities to reach every pregnant woman in Sub-Saharan Africa with the full three doses of preventive malaria treatment by 2025. But to make this dream a reality, governments must sustain and expand efforts to ensure uninterrupted access to prenatal care and malaria prevention, detection and treatment among pregnant women. It is especially important now, as the COVID-19 pandemic threatens to disrupt access to prenatal care and life-saving essential malaria services.
No mother should have to fear losing their child to an easily preventable, treatable disease. Now is the time to eliminate barriers to progress and ensure that all mothers can protect themselves and their children from malaria.