Infectious diseases during pregnancy put both the mother and the unborn child at risk.Â According to WHO’s Global Malaria Program, co-infections with HIV and malaria put pregnant women at special risk. WHO is also concerned that opportunities to address infectious diseases like HIV and malaria are often missed during antenatal care (ANC).Â WHO therefore recommends a minimum 4-visit focused ANC package as follows:
For antenatal care to be effective, all pregnant women need a minimum of four visits, at specific times and with evidence-based content. Care for women during pregnancy improves health by preventive measures, and by prompt detection and management of complications. Essential components of a focused antenatal-care package include screening for and treatment of disorders (such as anaemia, abnormal lie, hypertension, diabetes, syphilis, tuberculosis, and malaria); provision of preventive interventions (such as tetanus immunisation and insecticide-treated bednets); and counselling about diet, hygiene, HIV status, birth, emergency preparedness, and care and feeding of babies. Since antenatal care has good coverage, it provides a platform to increase the interventions provided during antenatal visits, including HIV care for the mother, prevention of maternal to child transmission (PMTCT) of HIV, and support for feeding choices. However, this opportunity must be weighed against the risk of overloading services that are already stretched.
It is encouraging to see that the Ministry of Health in Mozambique is taking the integration of malaria control and PMTCT into its antenatal care services.Â The picture above shows an ANC nurse’s desk in one of the more that 500 health facilities that offer PMTCT. There is almost what one could call a one-stop-shop for pregnant women in terms of getting their preventive medicines – sulfadoxine-pyrimethamine (SP) for intermittent preventive treatment of malaria (IPT), and AZT and neviraprine for PMTCT prophylaxis, among others.
Some challenges to this integration remain.Â The policy for IPT was adopted only in 2006 after pilot testing in two provinces, and needs to be disseminated more fully. PMTCT is presently offered in only about one-half to one-third of health facilities where ANC is offered. ITNs are not yet available in all routine service points, but there is a strong commitment to contiunue work toward integration.
The Round Six Global Fund application for Mozambique summarizes the vision of integration: “The HIV/AIDS component supports provision of comprehensive antenatal care (ANC) to pregnant women, consisting of provision of anaemia, syphilis and HIV tests; iron, folic acid and vitamin A supplementation; Intermittent Preventive Tretament (IPT) of malaria in pregnant women; de-worming, health education & counselling on breastfeeding , nutrition, HIV and hygiene. The delivery by the malaria component of ITNs through routine ANC will reinforce this comprehensive care. Early data from applying the model in Inhambane Province has also shown increased use of ANC when ITNs are made available; this will enhance uptake of the other services.”
We hope other countries take this as a model of ANC integration to emulate.