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Archive for "Equity"

Equity &ITNs Bill Brieger | 24 Mar 2011

Net Equity – SUFI or SUFE?

nigeria2.jpgMalaria elimination efforts move along a pathway outlined by the Roll Back Malaria Partnership that begins with limited control, moves on to scaling up and then aims as sustaining the scaled up interventions so that incidence drops and we can enter the pre-elimination phase.  The scale up efforts that have been most intense in the past three-year effort to reach universal coverage (UC) have been known by the acronyn SUFI – scale up for intervention.

SUFI and UC are also viewed against the backdrop of RBM targets set in 2000 to achieve 60% coverage by 2005 and 80% by 2010.  The implication is that we may claim success with 20% of the population still not reached, which appears to counter the aims of UC.  Therefore a bigger question is whether we are simultaneously achieving SUFE – scale up for equity.

liberia2.jpgFrom the standpoint of malaria control equity should focus on whether those people who are most vulnerable to infection have access to interventions.  Vulnerability or risk has been viewed from two perspectives: 1) people who are more likely to experience infection because of their immune status such as children below 5 years of age and pregnant women and 2) people living in poverty whose financial and housing situation expose them more to infection and whose incomes are more at risk when they suffer from malaria.

Presented here are snapshots from health surveys in Nigeria, Liberia and Senegal that compare household net ownership with wealth quintile (Demographic and Health Survey, Malaria Indicator Survey). These countries have achieved differing levels of coverage and access to low income groups that help us question how equity relates to malaria control.

Nigeria is characterized by low overall coverage. During recent discussions at a retreate among maternal and child health professionals, colleagues raised the question of whether we can consider equity when coverage is very low. Nigeria prior to the mass net distribution efforts of 2009-11 provides some interesting information for the discussion. Although households in the lower wealth quintiles are slightly more likely to have any kind of bednet, the ownership of an insecticide treated net (ITN) is much greater in the wealthier homes. This may not be unrelated to the fact that ITNs in the early phases of control were often sold or subsidized, limiting their access to people with better income.

senegal2.jpgLiberia and Senegal with moderate and higher levels of coverage display the same overall trend as Nigeria with poorer household more likely to have some kind of bednet, but when it comes to ITNs, the poorer ones also have some advantage.  At the time of their surveys, both Senegal and Liberia had been doing some mass net distributions, and the benefit to the lower income people in their countries seems apparent.  It should be noted that higher income people may not need nets as a main protecteive measure if they live in better constructed homes that usually have window and door screening, an expensive intervention on its own.

One might conclude that Universal Coverage does have a strong equity or SUFE component.  We also need to investigate whether other interventions like prompt case management and intermittent preventive treatment are also reaching the people in most need.

Equity &Integration &Procurement Supply Management Bill Brieger | 27 Oct 2010

Health Posts – meeting rural needs

People living in rugged rural terrain often go without formal health services. The population may be remote and even migratory, as some herd cattle.

dscn0659a.JPGAngola is working to ensure that at minimum there are Health Posts staffed by trained nurses to provide services beyond the municipal/district headquarters. And since onchocerciasis is common in many of such areas, we are also talking about providing integrated disease control and health care ‘beyond the end of the road,’ as advocated by the African Program for Onchocerciasis Control.

Life for these nurses is not easy as there is usually just one staff member to run the post. Also this situation means that male nurses predominate – one reason why it is presumed that antenatal care may not be easy to provide.

dscn0699-sm.JPGA visit to such a health post recently showed that not only was the nurse enthusiastic, but that he could provide some of the basic components of antenatal care in all but name.

The post had a good supply of sulphadoxine-pyramethamine that is required for intermittent preventive treatment of malaria in pregnant women. There were other medicines and supplements routinely given pregnant women such as ferrous sulfate and de-worming drugs.  The nurse even had a fetal stethoscope.

Strengthening these rural outposts is a priority for malaria control and health equity. These rural populations do not even have access to medicine shops as found in some areas.

Regular supplies of nets, RDTs, ACTs and SP will guarantee that all parts of Africa can work toward reducing malaria deaths by 2015.

Equity &Malaria in Pregnancy Bill Brieger | 07 Mar 2010

International Women’s Day … and malaria

For 99 years International Women’s Day (8 March) has been “a global day celebrating the economic, political and social achievements of women past, present and future.” According to the UN Special Envoy for Malaria, Ray Chambers

The disease strikes infants, children under five and pregnant women in astonishing disproportion, as these segments of the population account for 90 percent of malaria deaths. Given the dual role of women as both victim and primary protector of victims, malaria clearly belongs under the umbrella of traditional women’s health issues.

dscn7760sm.JPGThe protective role of women in the fight against malaria extends beyond the household. In endemic most countries the majority of front line health workers who treat malaria patients and give out bednets are women.  Women also play a major community role when they volunteer as village health workers and bring malaria treatment and prevention to the grassroots as seen in Ethiopia‘s “scheme to train thousands of young women in malaria fighting tactics.”

Although women may not have equal numbers of positions compared to men when it comes to malaria policy making and program management, it was impressive at the November meeting of the RBM Harmonization Working Group to be addressed by the women who were directors of the national malaria control programs of Kenya, Nigeria and Ghana.

The World Gender Gap Report (2008) considers economic opportunity and participation, educational attainment, political empowerment, and health and survival of women in each country.  130 countries were scored, and at ten of the lower 30 on the list are endemic for malaria compared to only 3 in the top 30. This does not mean that malaria per se creates inequality, but may have a harder time accessing malaria prevention and treatment where gender equality is highest.

Provision of Intermittent Preventive Treatment for pregnant women (IPTp) during antenatal care is an example of neglected services for women. The World Malaria Report roughly estimates that no around 20% of pregnant women in areas of stable malaria transmission in Africa received the minimum two doses of IPTp even though the target for 2005 was 60%.  The RBM website’s country facts show that coverage with two doses can be as low as 3% in Angola and 5% in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Only one country appears to have broken the 60% ceiling, Zambia.

Countries need to step up and close the gender gap in malaria services. Resources are available from Jhpiego to help countries assess their current malaria in pregnancy program implementation status, update their malaria policies to reflect the needs of women and train health workers to deliver better malaria services to women.

Equity &Funding Bill Brieger | 22 Dec 2009

User Fees – a potential threat to malaria elimination?

A nutrition clinic during 2009 in Côte d’Ivoire saw only 33% of the number of clients it helped in 2007.  IRIN reports that staff believe this was not due to decreases in malnutrition, but to the introduction of user fees.Under the hospital’s cost-recovery scheme, each family must pay 5,000 CFA francs (US$10.80) per child requiring intensive therapeutic feeding.”

Médecins Sans Frontières used to run the nutrition clinic, but fees were needed to run the service after the NGO left in 2008. “Many women who come in cannot afford to pay, Konan (who runs the clinic) said. ‘Two out of six new cases we have now could not pay… Sustaining these activities is hard … MSF wanted us to make the treatment free but we need more money to do so.'”

Cost recovery schemes have been touted, at least since the 1987 Bamako Initiative, as a way to guarantee that primary care services are sustainable. Mali, where the Bamako Initiative was penned, has been running a cost recovery system for many years that involves the community in decisions about the costs of medicines in the community health center, but ethical issues continually arise when malaria medicines are supposedly free through money from sources like the Global Fund.

A study in Burkina Faso on fees in a Bamako Initiative style program found that, “The introduction of fees-for-services had an adverse effect on service utilization. The study district is in a position to bear the financial cost of taking care of the poor and the  community is able to identify such people. Incentivesmust be introduced by the state and be swiftly applied so that the communities agree to a more equitable system and thereby allow access to care for those excluded from services because they are unable to pay.”

Our experience in Akwa Ibom State, Nigeria, attest to the negative impact of fees. Each local government decides on its own scale of registration fees for antenatal care.  While ANC registration in southern Nigeria is generally high, we found that only about 20% of pregnant women were coming to government run ANC clinics in Akwa Ibom.

After introducing a program to enhance malaria in pregnancy control services in selected local governments, we found that attendance still remained low.  The community distributors we had trained were expected to refer pregnant women to ANC, but the process was thwarted when the women were asked to pay between 200-300 Naira (upwards to US $2) to register.

Fortunately the women were able to receive their Intermittent Preventive Treatment (IPT), health education and some bednets through the trained community distributors, but the goal of linking them to improved quality comprehensive ANC services could not easily be met.

bill-on-free-medical-services-for-pregnant-women2.jpgAdvocacy efforts continue with each of the local government chairpersons and councils in the project area, but they are reluctant to relinquish these small fees. The state health services, such as secondary level district hospitals, offer free ANC, but this bypasses the primary care system. At any rate there are not enough state hospitals to make up for the need.
The State Legislature continues to debate whether to make health care for women and children free throughout all local governments. In the meantime, women in the state are effectively denied the means to protect themselves and their unborn children from the risks of malaria.

Much work is still needed to overcome the barriers to universal coverage of malaria interventions. The goals of sustaining a health system and eliminating malaria appear at odds at times, but delivery of malaria services depends on a strong primary health care system.  There are certainly better sources of revenue for health services than charging fees to poor pregnant women in communities where people earn less than a dollar a day.

Equity Bill Brieger | 16 Nov 2009

Ethnic Minorities and Universal Coverage

dscn6801-sm.JPGIf we are to achieve universal coverage – a crucial step along the pathway to malaria elimination – we must be sure that all at risk populations are reached.

IRIN news gives us reasons to pause.  Reporting on Vietnam, IRIN found that, “Maternal mortality rates vary widely across the country. In Cao Bang province, with a 98 percent ethnic minority population, there are 411 maternal deaths for every 100,000 live births, according to UNICEF. In Binh Duong province, near Ho Chi Minh City, the rate is less than one-tenth of that.”

In remote mountainous areas IRIN notes that, “Minorities such as the H’Mong mostly still give birth at home, and are far less likely to access healthcare, especially antenatal care, health specialists say.” An important part of antenatal care is prevention and treatment of malaria.  Besides geographical access, minorities also have financial access problems since they are often poorer than the general population.

Minority access affects many countries and health problems. We found that in southwestern Nigeria, migrant Fulani populations were less likely to get childhood immunizations than their sedentary counterparts. The Fulani there depend more on private health providers to avoid perceived discrimination at local government health services. The settlements of these cattle herding peoples were often overlooked during guinea worm surveillance activities.

Specific to malaria, Dysoley and colleagues found that ethnic minorities working in the forests of Cambodia, while more susceptible to malaria, have been neglected in the past. Ahmed found in Balgladesh differential health and health-seeking behaviors among ethnic groups for illnesses including malaria where Bangalis were more likely to seek qualified allopaths as providers than did ethnic minorities.

Timely and equitable access to effective malaria interventions for all peoples in endemic areas is the only way that malaria can be eliminated.

Equity &Research Bill Brieger | 04 Nov 2009

Public Health Ethics and Malaria Research

Wen Kilama of the African Malaria Network Trust brought a challenging idea to the malaria researchers gathered at MIM’s 5th Pan-African Malaria Conference on Tuesday. He explained that while we have a strong tradition of biomedical ethics that protect the individual from harm in research trials, we do not have a clear code of ethical processes, not the mechanism to oversee and regulate these for public or population health research.

atiamkpat-community-1-nets-sm.jpgHis thoughts are also expounded in a current article in a supplement to Acta Tropica and ask us to consider difficult questions such as weighing individual protection and public benefit of an intervention beijng tested.  Examples of these have included immunization regimens, water fluoridation and iodization of salt. In malaria research we also must consider individual freedoms and choices balanced against the community protective effects of indoor residual spraying or wide coverage long lasting insecticide treated net (LLIN) campaigns.

Dr Kilama raised an interesting ethics about the distribution of two different types of LLINs.  One is a polyester multifiber net with insecticide coated yarn has received only Phase 2 approval from WHOPES, which approves insecticides for human safety. The other is a polyethylene monofilament net with insecticide incorporated into the yard. This has received Phase 3 WHOPES approval.  Ironically three times as many of the former were made available to the public than the later in recent years. Is this ethical?

Dr Kilama also raised an equity issue – how can we justify testing health interventions like LLINs on rural poor people who bear the greatest malaria burden when at the start of most programs, it is better off urban people who can afford the nets?

Corporate social responsibility also plays a role after research and testing for regulatory approval have been done. The manufacturers of the monofilament polyethylene nets have made provision for royalty free transfer and have already set up operations in one African country and are ready to move into others.  Their first African factory employs 6,000 people locally and has a positive economic impact on at least 30,000 in the community.

Ethical considerations in a population/public based research like vector control is complex. Community awareness and consent processes come at the start, but then effort must be made to enlist the informed participation of households and individuals.  Ghana’s Navrongo community research facility was mentioned as an example of an institution that has a codified community ethics process.

Dr Kilama called on the public health research community, and especially community malaria researchers, to develop consensus ethical procedures for community studies.

Equity &Treatment Bill Brieger | 12 Sep 2009

Mosquitoes bite regardless of economic status, but for treatment …

dscn3873sm.JPGIn villages of southeastern Nigeria, Uguru and colleagues found that mosquitoes do not discriminate by socio-economic status (SES), but SES does influence where people go for treatment once those bites result in malaria. “In one of the villages the most poor, very poor and poor significantly used the services of patent medicine vendors and the least poor visited hospitals.”

Expenditure to treat malaria did not vary by SES group and ranged between US$ 1 – 3, with transport costs being less than a dollar.  The difference therefore, was that the poor paid proportionately more for their treatment than co-villagers who were least poor.  Treatment options sought by each group also introduced possible differences in quality of care, too.

As the World Malaria Report of 2005 observed, “Patterns of malaria transmission and disease vary markedly between regions and even within individual countries. This diversity results from variations (in) … conditions that affect malaria transmission and socioeconomic factors, such as poverty and access to effective health care and prevention services.” Because of this, “Malaria control is increasingly recognized as playing a key role in poverty reduction in high burden countries.”

Clearly, people in the villages studied do not have access to cheap or free appropriate malaria medicines, although Enugu State, where the study occurred, has been included in the Global Fund Round 4 Malaria grant in Nigeria. Initially GFATM malaria medicines covered only children less than five years of age who attended government health facilities.

Nigeria has recognized the weakness of a strictly public sector approach and is now making malaria medicines available through both public and private sector sources, particularly the medicine shops frequented by the poor as described in Uguru’s study.

The Society for Family Health (SFH) in Nigeria, with USAID support, has spearheaded an effort to make quality prepackaged antimalarial drugs available cheaply through private sources, such as medicine shops.  Now that SFH is involved with the Global Fund grant in Nigeria, there is hope that this distribution network can be strengthened to reach more people – especially the poor who find it difficult to access formal health services in either the government or the private sector.
There is still a long way to go to achieve universal treatment coverage among the 140 million plus people in Nigeria, but a mixed sector strategy seems to be a good way to start.

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