Currently the Roll Back Malaria (RBM) Partnership’s Malaria in Pregnancy Working Group is meeting in Kigali, Rwanda. Seven country teams present have presented their progress and challenges, including most recent information on coverage/use of long-lasting insecticide treated nets (LLINs) and intermittent preventive treatment for pregnant women (IPTp).Â Other working group members have also presented coverage data from other countries.
Two main challenges emerged. First, for the most part stable endemic countries that are using IPTp and reporting recent levels of coverage for this and for LLINs are hardly reaching the 2010 RBM targets of 80%.Â The second challenge is that some countries have actually recorded recent drops in IPTp coverage.
Group members presented experience and research that help explain these challenges.Â Coverage with the minimum two doses of IPTp has been hampered by the following:
- periodic stock-outs of sulfadoxine-pyrimethamine (SP) supplies
- complexity of the steps involved in providing IPTp properly as directly observed treatment at antenatal clinic
- poor dissemination of national malaria in pregnancy (MIP) policies and guidelines
- inconsistencies in IPTp guidelines between malaria control and reproductive/maternal health service units
- lack of coordinated planning between those two units
The second problem, as seen in the chart to the left may be due to the above mentioned factors, but also imply more serious health systems problems. SP has become a forgotten step-child in the essential medicines portfolio.Â Once reduced treatment efficacy was observed with SP, countries began switching to artemisinin-based combination therapy (ACT) for case management. SP was, according to meeting participants, still efficacious for prevention, but the formal health sector has not always responded by keeping it in stock.
In fact the private sector still stocks SP because customers demand this cheaper alternative to ACT, even though such unregulated use may add to the problem of parasite resistance.Â Also donor programs, recognizing that SP is relatively cheap, often rely on endemic countries to purchase their own SP stocks, which some are reluctant to do.
IPTp saves lives in countries with stable malaria. The pregnant woman herself may not ‘feel’ the results of malaria that is concentrated in her placenta, but the fetus is deprived of nourishment and may be spontaneously aborted, stillborn, or born with low birth weight that increases the likelihood of neonatal mortality.
The 2012 World Malaria Day Theme of Sustain Gains, Save Lives: Invest in Malaria, could not be more timely in light of the charts seen here.Â First we still have to make the gains in many countries, especially in respect to protecting pregnant women.Â We need to sustain gains, not backslide.Â This can only be done if donors and health ministries continue to fund MIP control activities and health program managers in both malaria control and reproductive health sincerely collaborate.