Promoting Education Promotes Malaria Control

Millennium Development Goal Number Two focuses on Universal Primary Education for all girls and boys by 2015.  BBC informs us that “The global figure for the number of children without access to schools has fallen to 57 million, according to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization,” a fall from an estimate of 61 million missing school in 2010. Unfortunately the improvement is unlikely to be enough to meet the MDG pledge.

The BBC further notes that, “More than half of the children missing out on school are now in sub-Saharan Africa. The last annual report showed that in some countries, including Nigeria, the problem is getting worse rather than better.”

What does education have to do with the elimination of malaria?  We can look at the Malaria Indicator Survey (MIS 2012) from Nigeria to get some ideas.  The attached chart shows that several important maternal health variables are linked with improved educational levels.  It is not that education per se makes women more aware and take action, but education opens their lives and minds to the possibilities of better health and development.

education-level-prevention-of-malaria-in-pregnancy-sm.jpgThe chart shows that women with higher education report greater exposure to malaria messages in the media.  It is not a simple matter of understanding, since many media programs are in local languages. We are talking about being more attuned to health messages in the available media because of improved education.

Life saving behaviors like attending antenatal care (ANC) and getting services offered there, like intermittent preventive treatment (IPT) for malaria, are enhanced by education.  Interestingly the MIS shows an opposite trend for sleeping under insecticide treated bednets among all women of reproductive age:

  • 42% with no education
  • 22% with primary education
  • 17% with secondary education
  • 17% with post-secondary education

This may appear odd until one realizes that campaigns to distribute ITNs intentionally or not address equity issues, reaching less educated (and poorer) households.  More educated and possibly more wealthy households are more likely to have window screening and other aspects of house construction (ceilings) that help keep out mosquitoes.

One wonders then if community campaigns are successful in reversing the education gap in ITN access and use whether such approaches should be used with IPTp.  In fact we have successfully shown that community health volunteers, under the guidance of ANC staff are able to reach poor rural communities and increase IPTp coverage.

Increased access to education will enhance uptake of health interventions. In the meantime we can make every effort to bring these interventions closer to the communities through their own efforts.

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