Category Archives: Mortality

Congenital Malaria, an Underappreciated Neonatal Problem

The largest portion of infant deaths occurs in the neonatal period. During those first 28 days, the child is at risk from a variety of problems arising from delivery complications, infections and simply not being kept warm.

DSCN6373 smIn malaria endemic areas there is the small but important problem of malaria transferred from mother to child, or congenital malaria. The problem occurs with both Plasmodium vivax and falciparum.

Congenital malaria in the newborn is often hard to detect. There may be fever, but other signs and symptoms might include anaemia, jaundice, paleness, diarrhoea, vomiting, and general weakness.

Prevalence of congenital malaria in Ghana, for example, ranged from 2% by microscopy to 12% using polymerase chain reaction (PCR). In India microscopy revealed a prevalence of 3% with cases of both vivax and falciparum.

One would hope this problem could be avoided if prevention of malaria in pregnancy was practiced using insecticide treated nets, intermittent preventive treatment (IPTp) and prompt and appropriate case management, but studies still find placental and cord parasiteamia in countries where such interventions are supposed to be integrated into antenatal/prenatal care. In Colombia, “An association was found between congenital malaria and the diagnosis of malaria in the mother during the last trimester of pregnancy or during delivery, and the presence of placental infection.”

Countries are in the process of shifting to the relatively new WHO guidance on IPTp that encourages monthly doses of sulfadoxine-pyrimethamine from the beginning of the second trimester up until delivery. Countries are also trying to ensure universal coverage of ITNs so that women will be using nets prior to even becoming pregnant.

We still have trouble administering to take just two doses of IPTp, but if we want to prevent congenital malaria, we need to ensure that women are protected from malaria in their placentas and are free from parasites right up until they give birth and thereby prevent another cause of neonatal mortality.

Are non-communicable diseases actually communicable?

Much of the discussion around global health and post-Millennium Development Goals focuses on non-communicable diseases (NCDs) including cardiovascular problems, diabetes, cancers and the the like.  While it is important to recognize that low income nations are not plagued with both communicable and non-communicable diseases, we do not want the greater focus on NCDs in richer countries to overshadow the problems of malaria, pneumonia, TB, diarrhea and other child killers in poorer countries.

dscn7742-chw-flipchart.jpgA major reason for us not to lose focus on communicable diseases was recently reported from the Wellcome Trust on research they have supported in Malawi. The researchers found that the malaria parasite, Plasmodium falciparum, is able to “cause inflammation in blood vessel walls, making them more sticky so that the infected red blood cells can cling to the sides. Being able to stick to the blood vessels in vital organs allows the parasite to hide away from the immune system, a process called sequestration. When it occurs in the brain it causes a more severe form of the disease called cerebral malaria, associated with seizures, coma and sometimes death.”

The researchers also surmised that if this complication does not kill people in childhood, the damage to blood vessel walls can have more long lasting effects. In particular they noted that, “Chronic changes to the blood vessels like these could an important contributing factor to cardiovascular disease later in life.”

The link between malaria and Endemic Burkitt lymphoma (eBL) continues to be explored. Recently adding to this long history of eBL research, Peter Aka and colleagues reported that. “Anti–HRP-II (Plasmodium falciparum histidine-rich protein-II) antibodies suggest that recent malaria infection triggers the onset of eBL.”

In a review of intrauterine growth retardation (IUGR) Demicheva and Crispi observed that, “Several clinical and experimental studies showed that IUGR fetuses present signs of cardiac dysfunction in utero that persist postnatally and may condition higher cardiovascular risk later in life.” In endemic regions, malaria in pregnancy is a major cause of IUGR and thus low birth weight.

Preventing malaria therefore saves lives now and in the future. Ignoring malaria now adds greater burdens to the health system and national productivity tomorrow. We need to maintain our investments in malaria both globally and in and by endemic countries themselves.

Mosquito Nets – are we ready to restock?

The 2012 Millennium Development Goals annual report/update has been released. Progress for malaria has been noted, but below target. In summary the report notes that …

“The estimated incidence of malaria has decreased globally, by 17 per cent since 2000. Over the same period, malaria-specific mortality rates have decreased by 25 per cent. Reported malaria cases fell by more than 50 per cent between 2000 and 2010 in 43 of the 99 countries with ongoing malaria transmission.”

mdg-report-2012-net-progress-a.jpgWhile the overall tenor of the report veers toward the positive, the authors had to explain that, “Although these rates of decline were not sufficient to meet the internationally agreed targets for 2010 of a 50 per cent reduction, they nonetheless represent a major achievement.”  Ironically, the map at the right, taken from the report does not even include a shading for 80% and higher – the Roll Back Malaria target for 2012. Inadequate intervention coverage and the financial and health systems weaknesses contributed to the coverage gap, in spite of calls for universal coverage in 2009.

The big push toward universal coverage did result in more nets, but some countries are still in the process of trying to get the first round of mass distribution finished.  In light of Global Fund Round 11 cancellation and the world economic crisis, fears exist that replacement nets, likely needed by 2013, can be bought. The MDG report echos this concern: “There are worrisome signs, however, that momentum, impressive as it has been, is slowing, largely due to inadequate resources.”

Fortunately there is a bight light. Rwanda just announced that –

Over six million treated mosquito nets will be distributed to households in 2012 and 2013 and around 500,000 Long Lasting Insecticidal Nets (LLINs) will be given to pregnant women and children under five years in 2012, the National Malaria Control Program Director, Dr. Corine Karema, has said. “Currently we are in the phase of replacing the Long Lasting Insecticidal Nets (LLINs) distributed in 2010,” Dr Karema said, adding that families which didn’t receive them in 2010 will be assessed so that they can also get nets.

Not only does Rwanda’s effort represent replacement of the old nets, but also recognizes the need to provide nets in an ongoing manner during routine health services like antenatal care. Let’s hope that this sets a good example for other countries to make a commitment to find the funds – locally and/or internationally to ensure that the MDG for malaria morbidity and mortality reduction will not be sidetracked.

Investing and Sustaining: Lessons from Rwanda on World Malaria Day

Rwanda on track to zero deaths from malaria by 2015

By Dr. Corine Karema

Today, April 25th, the world will be commemorating Malaria Day as stipulated in the Abuja Declaration of 2000. Just like the previous years, Rwanda will join the rest of the world in commemorating this day by highlighting achievements in controlling Malaria while also renewing commitment of achieving zero targets of malaria related deaths by 2015.

The theme for this year’s World Malaria Day is “Sustain Gains, Save Lives: Invest in Malaria”, a theme that is testimony to the renewed global commitment of finding lasting solutions for eliminating Malaria from our midst.  For Rwanda, a country that has registered significant progress in combating Malaria, this commitment is a shared vision for which we attach greater value.

Coming up with sustainable and investment solutions for Malaria control is a new discourse which underlines the importance of continued investment in combating this disease with the view of propelling malaria-endemic countries along the path of achieving the health and poverty related Millennium Development Goals by 2015. Here in Rwanda, the battle against Malaria has not been an easy one. It has called for strategic interventions, committed leadership of our government and support from development partners to register progress that we see today across the country.

I will share with you some of the outstanding achievements we have registered over the past years, many of which are captured in the recently released 2010 Demographic Health Survey (DHS). The recent scaling up of interventions has made significant progress:

  • reductions in morbidity by 87% from 1,669,614 malaria cases in 2005 to 212,200 cases in 2011 and
  • reduced mortality by 76% from 1,582 deaths in 2005 to 380 deaths in 2011.

dscn7129asm.jpgThis reduction is as a result of scaling up of preventive measures especially coverage and use of long lasting insecticidal nets (LLINs) which according to the 2010 DHS results…

  • 82% of households have at least one LLIN
  • 72% of pregnant women slept under their nets and
  • 70% of children under-five years were using bed nets

Previously and as the case is in most developing countries, Malaria is treated based on signs and symptoms. However, Rwanda is one of the few countries in the world today where up to 94 percent of Malaria cases are laboratory through microscopy or rapid diagnostic tests at all levels of health care structure including the community level.

The involvement of Community Health Workers (CHWs) in early diagnosis and treatment of children Under-five years has also had an impact on malaria incidence throughout the country as currently 95% of children are tested and treated for malaria within 24 hours of symptoms onset.

In addition, Malaria control activities have been integrated and decentralized at all levels including –

  • a strong CHWs network which facilitates community involvement and participation,
  • the community health insurance scheme also known as Mutuelles de Sante and
  • a strong Health Management Information Systems (HMIS) including the web based community health information system (

The above interventions are strengthened by use of mobilisation and sensitisation campaigns using different channels of communication. The advocacy and social mobilisation is oriented towards intensifying different efforts to sustain the gains made as the country moves towards pre-elimination phase of malaria as outlined in the new Malaria Strategic Plan (2012-2017).

To emphasize on the importance of the World Malaria Day, this year’s event will be held during the scheduled Rwanda Malaria Forum that will be held in Kigali in mid June 2012. The Forum will bring together malaria experts from international community who will deliberate on the challenges African countries and in particular, Rwanda, face in malaria control and how to overcome them.

The recommendations of the forum will guide our sector in finalizing the new Malaria Strategic Plan that outlines Rwanda’s strategies from malaria control to pre-elimination phase by 2017. A series of activities to run for a week have also been planned to reach community levels where different interventions of promoting awareness on preventive measures will be discussed with input from community leaders.

Therefore, as we mark this day in Rwanda, we take pride of our achievements but also remain mindful and conscious of the challenges ahead a in realising the ambitious target of having a Rwanda that is free from Malaria.

The Author is Head of Malaria and Other Parasitic Diseases Division Rwanda Biomedical Center/IHPDPC, Follow: Twitter @ckarema

Malaria and Older Adults

Recent research has stressed the increase risk of death from malaria that elderly tourists face. Mortality from P. falciparum malaria increased steadily with increasing age with case fatality rate peaking in the group aged over 65 years. The authors explain that, “These data are supported by previous reports of increased case fatality and higher levels of parasitaemia in elderly people,” but the three studies cited focus only on travelers and tourists back in the UK, not adults and elderly people living in endemic regions.

This leads on to wonder about the risks malaria poses to elderly people in endemic countries, especially as populations throughout the world are aging.

While the recent controversial study that suggests that malaria deaths in adults have been underestimated world-wide, it does not specifically address the suspected prevalence of malaria morbidity and mortality in older adults. Specifically the authors “estimated more deaths in individuals aged 5 years or older than has been estimated in previous studies: 435 000 (307 000-658 000) deaths in Africa and 89 000 (33 000-177 000) deaths outside of Africa in 2010.”

Concerning the “outside Africa” component mentioned above, a study of adult and child malaria mortality (both falciparum and vivax) in India published in 2010 did report a higher malaria mortality risk in persons over 60 years of age.

More documentation on malaria morbidity and mortality in persons over 60 years in age in endemic countries is needed. Although portions of this segment of the population may no longer be in their productive years, they do consume health care resources, and as grandparents play important roles in child care.

scan_io-012-sm.jpgIn addition there is need to ascertain reasons for any differing patterns that may be detected. The study on tourists did not think that co-morbidity in elderly patients was responsible but instead implied that older people on holidays may forget to take their prophylaxis.

What differences in health behavior might be found in elderly populations in malaria endemic countries – maybe greater reliance on less efficacious indigenous concoctions? Are there differences in terms of perceptions of severity and seriousness of illness? Are there differences in care access?

The respect and quality of care we give the elderly says a lot about the societies in which we live.

Much ado about malaria mortality

progress-impact-8-sm.pngAttention has recently focused on the news that malaria deaths are reducing and therefore, we may actually experience no malaria deaths by 2015 in line with the Millennium Development Goals. The excitement has been generated by a new report in the Progress and Impact series that documents great increases in malaria funding. Optimism helps spur action, but occasionally caution is needed so that slight disappointments do not grind action to a halt.

Two recent publications should encourage a little caution without dampening enthusiasm.

A headline in Ghana Business News states that, “Ghana risks missing some MDGs by 2015.”  The article explains that “… a study jointly conducted by the Ministry of Health and Ghana Health Service (GHS) has revealed … certain bottlenecks and organisational weaknesses …”  These weaknesses include –

  • absence of integration of programmes
  • general health service financial resources at national levels
  • weak community participation in health planning and management
  • increasing sense of frustration and neglect on the side of community volunteers

These are health systems and management issues – the very framework on which good malaria interventions are built.  Even the MDG website itself encourages us that “efforts must be sustained to win the battle.”

The Demographic and Health Survey (DHS) has published the preliminary results of the Nigeria 2010 Malaria Indicator Survey (MIS). Because of its large population Nigeria is the bellwether for controlling malaria on the continent with the overall highest number of malaria cases. Compared to the 2008 DHS, the 2010 MIS shows an increase from 17% to 44% of households that own any kind of bednet.  Gains are greatest in states supported by special programs such as the World Bank Booster, but are smaller than needed for achieving the 2010 Roll Back Malaria targets.

Speaking of targets, the proportion of young children sleeping under any kind of bednet in 2008 was 12% and rose to only 30% in 2010.  The figures are lower for insecticide treated bednets. Even in households with a net, only 59% of children slept under them.

Once can argue that Nigeria did not complete its net distribution for universal coverage in 2010 as hoped, but this gets back to the health systems bottlenecks mentioned in Ghana. Further caution is needed when one realizes that these millions of nets distributed up through 2010 will likely need replacement before 2015.

At present 51.5% of the children under five years of age tested with Rapid Diagnostic Tests in the 2010 Nigeria MIS tested positive for malaria.  We can certainly reduce mortality even if bednets are not used, but only 6% of this age group who had fever in the two weeks preceding the MIS had received the recommended artemisinin-based combination therapy.

Funding increases for malaria commodities alone will not achieve the desired reductions in malaria mortality, not will funding alone be able to tackle the health systems bottlenecks identified in many high prevalence countries.  A change in attitude is needed from top level political will to front line health worker perceptions.  If primary health care generally is not working, not reaching the people, malaria will still kill.

Neonatal Mortality – how does malaria contribute?

Over 40% of child deaths are now due to neonatal mortality, according to National Public Radio (NPR). NPR was commenting on a new article published in PLoS Medicine that examines neonatal death trends between 1990 and 2009. Although reducing child deaths is a key component of the Millennium Development Goals, neonatal mortality rates have actually increased in eight African countries, many of which are endemic for malaria.

Malaria contributes to neonatal mortality in two ways.  First, malaria in pregnancy leads to stillbirth and low birth weight babies who are more prone to death that those of normal weight. In a recent review, Ishaque and colleagues reported that, “The clearest evidence of impact in stillbirth reduction was found for adequate prevention and treatment of syphilis infection and possibly malaria.” Low birth weight can be prevented by using intermittent preventive treatment during pregnancy (IPTp).

The second contribution of malaria to neonatal mortality is congenital and neonatal malaria. A recent study in Nigeria has re-emphasized the connection between placental malaria and congenital malaria. Again, IPTp has be found effective in reducing neonatal cases of malaria.

dscn8011-iptp.jpgPublished research from Mozambique confirm that, “IPTp-SP was highly cost-effective for both prevention of maternal malaria and reduction of neonatal mortality in Mozambique.” Ironically, IPTp coverage is one of the key malaria indicators that is lagging as we have passed the RBM 2010 target of 80% coverage with two doses minimum for each pregnant woman in stable transmission areas.

Sufphadoxine-pyrimethamine, the drug used for IPTp, is cheap.  Many women attend antenatal care clinics where IPTp is (or should be given), yet Demographic and Health Survey results show few countries nearing even the 60% coverage mark for two IPTp doses.  There are no excuses in 2011 for pregnant women suffer and their newborns die because of malaria in pregnancy.

Youth vs Children – a mortality trade off

BBC has reported on a new study that shows global mortality trends favoring young children compared to adolescents and youth. “Young men aged 15-24 are now two to three times more likely to die prematurely than young boys aged one to four.” Female youth are no better off that their younger counterparts.

The study, published online in The Lancet, reviewed data from an economic spectrum of 50 countries over 50 years.  The need for available high quality data meant that no Subsaharan African country, where the burden of malaria is highest, was included.

Increased rates of injury and greater urbanization were key factors in mortality among youth. The former is not conducive to malaria, but the latter combined with the tendency toward more risky behaviors, does not exclude other infectious diseases, especially HIV.

under-5-mortality-rate-trends.jpgEven though they could not include African countries, the researchers did study at least 15 low or very low income countries and therefor, encourage continued monitoring in other low income settings. They note that trends such as urbanization and greater prevalence of non-communicable disease and injury are occuring in low income countries, too and “Because some of the greatest improvements in mortality in children younger than 5 years have been made in very low-income countries.”  Unicef’s 2011 State of th World’s Children supports the latter assumption as seen in the attached graph.

Although the authors note a decreasing trend in maternal mortality globally, pregnant teenage women in malaria endemic areas are still at high risk. These are often the group that do not get adequate antenatal care including prevention of malaria in pregnancy.

dscn0540a.jpgAn accompanying editorial in The Lancet calls attention to the general neglect of the health of adolescents and youth and reminds us that this new research shows “that mortality in young people aged 10–24 years has proved less responsive to the international alliances and interventions that have so effectively reduced early childhood mortality worldwide, emphasising the need for a vigorous global focus on the health and mortality of adolescents and young adults.”

Our efforts at malaria elimination and child survival will come to naught, if those children who make it past their fifth birthday never realize their potentials as adult members of the society.

Nigeria Midwives Scheme May Help Control Malaria

Nigeria has introduced the Midwives Service Scheme (MSS) through its National Primary Health Care Development Agency (NPHCDA) to meet the needs of women and children served by basic primary health care clinics rural communities. There is hope that the scheme will help to address the country’s high maternal mortality rate, which according to the 2008 Demographic and Health Survey, averages 545/100,000 live births, but ranges widely across the country’s six health zones from 165 to 1549.

maternal-mortality-rates-across-health-zones-2008-sm.jpgNigeria used to have separate midwife and nurse training, but some years ago midwifery became a specialty area for nursing training, not a stand alone profession. Fortunately the Nursing and Midwifery Council of Nigeria maintained its name and is now an active player along with the NPHCDA and the Society of Gyneacology and Obstetrics of Nigeria (SOGON) in reintroducing and strengthening the training of midwives.

The first batch of the new midwives graduated in 2006. The intention is that up to four midwives will serve a basic primary health clinic (PHC) enabling 24-hour delivery services.

The NPHCDA conducted a baseline survey recently in 652 PHCs throughout the country where the midwives are or would be serving.  Of interest to malaria control, the study reported that 73% of these facilities offered Intermittent Preventive Treatment with sulphadoxine-pyrimethamine to pregnant women, and only 48% provided insecticide treated bednets.

Providing a cadre of health workers focused women and children is an important step in malaria control. Ensuring that these staff have the resources to prevent malaria during and after pregnancy must be part of the total package.

Does Development Aid Work?

David Reiff, in reviewing the book Famine and Foreigners: Ethiopia Since Live Aid by Peter Gill, quoted William Easterly, who argues “not only that much aid is wasted—about this optimists and skeptics largely agree—but that, after five decades, outside aid, whether given by governments or by the increasingly important philanthropic sector … has done little to alleviate the condition of the world’s poor.”

angola-children-get-nets-an-child-welfare-clinic-sm.JPGThis view provides an interesting contract to a review by Steketee and Campbell entitled “Impact of national malaria control scale-up programmes in Africa: magnitude and attribution of effects.” These two authors report on studies occurring up to the end of 2009, that identified a three-fold increase in ITN household ownership (34 studies) and in malaria-endemic countries in Africa, with at least two estimates – pre-2005 and post-2005 when massive scale-up started.

Another key finding of the scale-up review was child “mortality declines have been documented in the 18 to 36 months following intervention scale-up.” They concluded that while, “Several factors potentially have contributed to recent health improvement in African countries, but there is substantial evidence that achieving high malaria control intervention coverage, especially with ITNs and targeted IRS, has been the leading contributor to reduced child mortality.”

In contrast to the pessimism of the wider development Aid Community, Steketee and Campbell stress that, “The documented impact provides the evidence required to support a global commitment to the expansion and long-term investment in malaria control to sustain and increase the health impact that malaria control is producing in Africa.”

Reiff also refers to James Grant, the former Unicef Executive Director who “was as unyieldingly optimistic about human possibility as he was clear-eyed about the extent of human suffering among the bottom half of the world’s population.”  The fact that Grant’s “optimistic scenario for what could be achieved has not come to pass does not necessarily mean that Grant was wrong to say – as, were he alive today, he almost certainly would say – that there was every reason to believe that it could do so.”

The political factors described by Gill that have ‘created’ modern famines are also likely to affect development work as it relates to malaria. Ironically Ethiopia, the scene of this famine narrative is also one of the success stories in malaria control. Were he here today James Grant might look at the unfolding malaria story and find support for his optimistic views of development.

That said, the ultimate success of malaria control rests in free, open societies where equitable access to all malaria interventions is possible for all citizens.