Adolescents and Malaria – Ignoring a Generation

Adolescent health is often a neglected issue. To illustrate this, BBC recently featured the story a young Nigerian woman who married at the age of 12: “No-one has asked me whether I liked the man or not. When it was time for the marriage, I just heard that I had been married to him.” With early marriage comes early birth. The 2003 Nigeria Demographic and Health Survey reported that half of first births occur during adolescence. The Lancet Infectious Diseases in December 2006 reported that “in pregnant adolescents, the consequences of malaria are of great concern.”

Children at ShopThe Lancet article was concerned that the problem of malaria in adolescence is overshadowed by that of young children, and yet the consequences of malaria on adolescents are not trivial. One quarter of young adolescents may develop severe anemia as a result of malaria. Somewhere between 1-10% of school days are missed because of malaria. Unfortunately adolescents often do not seek treatment, often for financial reasons, especially with the more expensive ACTs.

A RBM publication on gender and malaria reports that, “In many sub-Saharan African settings, adolescents are often parasitaemic and anaemic at the time that they first become pregnant,” but the Nigerian DHS found that only 50% of pregnant adolescents attend any antenatal care where they might benefit from malaria prevention.

Generally adolescents are not targeted for free ITNs and treatment by the common donor-supported malaria programs, and government health services are not making up the difference. This may lead to a dangerous ‘malaria’ generation gap.

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