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Research begins to increase access to malaria prevention and care for pregnant women and their unborn babies

on Thu, 12/06/2012 - 12:57

Cotonou, October 1st 2012. An international research consortium is meeting to kick off a major new study looking at whether community health care workers can increase access to malaria preventive treatment by pregnant women. This 3 million Euro project will take place in Benin, Burkina Faso and The Gambia over a 3 year period. The research teams in these three countries are meeting today and tomorrow with national and international policy-makers to review the project, and identify any system changes that would be needed if the research results show that this should be provided broadly.

In sub-Saharan Africa, over 30 million women living in malaria endemic areas become pregnant each year, and during this time, they and their unborn children are more susceptible to malaria. The disease kills more than 10 000 pregnant women and up to 200 000 infants each year.

The current malaria policy in the three African countries involved in this proposal (and the WHO recommended policy for all malaria endemic countries of sub-Saharan Africa) is to give an antimalarial treatment (IPTp-SP) to women when they attend an antenatal health facility clinic as a preventive.

However, many women don’t go to antenatal clinics, or they go later than they should because they don’t know the value of the services. This research study examines whether community health workers can encourage more pregnant women to go to the antenatal clinics for care and obtain the treatment. It also looks at whether these health workers can identify and treat malaria in between antenatal visits, in the community where they and the pregnant women live.

One arm of this project is to create a policy panel to inform policy-makers, healthcare providers, researchers in each of the 3 study countries so that if the results are favourable, the necessary policy and practice changes can be put into place substantially earlier than is usually possible. Consequently, staff from the Ministry of Health, the World Health Organization, local and national healthcare providers, NGOs and other international groups like UNICEF and Roll Back Malaria have been invited to a discussion the morning of 3 October.

If the data supports this plan, a policy briefing paper would be released at later national meetings in each of the 3 countries that funders and policy-makers could use for scaling up.

The Centre de Recherches Entomologiques de Cotonou is managing the Benin study site, led by Dr Alain Nahum. The overall project is coordinated by the Koninklijk Instituut voor de Tropen in The Netherlands, and the policy panel is being coordinated by the World Health Organization and TDR, the Special Programme for Research and Training in Tropical Diseases.