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From the ’90s to Now We’ve come so far. We’re ready to beat malaria—today, forever.

By Dr. Gladys Tetteh

They Didn’t Know Malaria Can Kill

Years ago, I was a young physician working on the pediatric unit of a hospital in Accra, Ghana, watching too many children die from severe—and entirely preventable—malaria. During the rainy months, from June to October, it was particularly bad. Mothers brought in children suffering from severe anemia, cerebral malaria or hypoglycemia—all complications of malaria.

It was clear to me that the children’s mothers just didn’t know to seek care early.

If only I had known that what my child had was dangerous, I would have taken him to the hospital, they would tell me.

But by then, it was too late.

Families needed better health education. If these mothers had known the symptoms, signs and benefits of seeking medical care immediately, they would have come sooner. More importantly, if they had been educated on prevention techniques sooner, many would never have needed to come in for care in the first place.

These were the early seeds of my passion for global health—the experiences that led me to join Jhpiego and provide oversight to a portfolio of malaria programs implemented across more than 18 countries.

From Burkina Faso to Nigeria, Chad to Mozambique, Democratic Republic of the Congo to Rwanda, we’re empowering communities and countries to beat malaria.

We Know How to Beat Malaria

Over the past 20 years, I’ve worked alongside ministries of health in Africa, South America and Asia to deploy tools and practices to prevent, diagnose and treat malaria in women, children and their families. It is abundantly clear: We know how to beat malaria—or as we are saying this month, for World Malaria Day, we are #readytobeatmalaria.

But knowing how does not mean that we have beat malaria yet. Too many countries worldwide are still challenged by barriers to access, uptake and quality. What do I mean? Here are three easy examples:

Access

Too many families live too far from health facilities. But we have solutions that break this barrier! Here, health workers knew that one member of this family had contracted malaria. They showed up at the house to test the rest of the family to be sure others hadn’t also contracted the disease. One child tested positive and quickly received treatment.

Uptake

Pregnant women and their babies are among the most vulnerable to malaria. But we know how to prevent malaria in pregnancy! Up to six doses of three little antimalarial pills at regular intervals during pregnancy are incredibly effective. An innovative new program is distributing this key preventive medicine in the community and through antenatal care to ensure that women have every opportunity to receive the optimal treatment throughout their pregnancy.

Quality

Belise Ibock suspected that she had malaria—she even bought what turned out to be a fake medicine in the market to treat herself. Luckily, her community health worker visited her home. He was trained to provide a rapid diagnostic test that confirmed Belise’s malaria infection and to provide effective treatment.

Breaking Barriers

Today, Jhpiego is part of innovative global efforts to beat malaria in communities and countries across Africa and Asia, and our malaria-fighting arsenal is wide!

Access

Through a new four-country project combating malaria in pregnancy, we’re increasing pregnant women’s access to preventive medicine by distributing it at the community level while at the same time encouraging antenatal care in the facility. In Burkina Faso, we are equipping hospitals to manage severe malaria cases at peak transmission through support for development and implementation of malaria preparedness and response plans.

Uptake

In countries like Tanzania, we’re crunching data to understand—and even predict—where women aren’t getting the full recommended dosage of antimalarial medicine in pregnancy so that we can avoid missed opportunities and mobilize to get women the care they need during pregnancy. In Madagascar, we’re working to design and implement targeted interventions to overcome barriers and enable patients with fever to seek care early.

Quality

We’re using mentoring to support community health workers to implement community case management in nearly 15,000 villages, building simple job aids for busy health workers, improving the quality of data countries track and analyze, and strengthening the links between a community health worker and a health facility, a health facility and a hospital. From Rwanda to Liberia, Cameroon to Nigeria, we’re bringing robust quality improvement practices to malaria care, whether we’re using our low-dose, high-frequency model of training to empower nurses with the skills they need to provide the best care or implementing our tried-and-true, standards-based management approach to ensure health workers have clear goals and a systematic process to achieve them.

Elyse Gansonre, her midwife and two malaria-free twins!

Too many children still die of malaria every year, and we have a long way to go before beating the disease forever. But the tenor of stories I hear has changed since I was a clinician in a Ghanaian health facility. Today, I hear more stories of lives saved. Of timely treatment and high-quality services.

In Burkina Faso, Elyse Gansonre delivered twins after a safe, healthy, malaria-free pregnancy thanks to her midwife, Clemence, and the preventive care she received throughout her pregnancy. The more we reach women like Elyse and her family, community and country with the quality services they need, the closer we’ll be to beating malaria forever.

Dr. Gladys Tetteh is Jhpiego's Director of Malaria Programs

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