Fighting Malaria in Children During West Africa’s Rainy Season

The piece below originally appeared on PMI Impact Malaria’s blog.

As the flagship global service delivery project of the U.S. President’s Malaria Initiative, PMI Impact Malaria works with national malaria control programs (NMCPs) to fight malaria and save lives by strengthening the diagnosis, treatment, and drug-based prevention of malaria, especially for young children and pregnant women. Led by PSI—in partnership with Jhpiego, Medical Care Development International, and UCSF—PMI Impact Malaria has been working this year with NMCPs in Cameroon, Mali, and Niger to prevent childhood malaria by supporting seasonal malaria chemoprevention (SMC) campaigns, and will have reached an estimated 3.7 million children altogether.

by Anne Bulchis, PMI Impact Malaria Communications Manager

Drocas Dako knows how to multitask. During Mali’s seasonal malaria chemoprevention (SMC) campaign, she’s out the door by 7 a.m. to distribute free pills that protect children from malaria. She goes from one household to the next, the whole time with her baby on her back.

At one of the first homes, Drocas is welcomed with friendly greetings and chatter as she and the household’s grandmother, Assitar, collect the young children and sit down together in the shade of a nearby tree.

Thinking back to the training she received from a nurse at the closest health clinic, Drocas administers the pills to a 4-year old boy, Alou, and speaks kindly as she reminds Assitar of the importance of checking off on Alou’s SMC card that the second and third doses were indeed given later at home.

Photo Credit: Kathryn Malhotra for PMI Impact Malaria, Mali, 2019

That afternoon, Drocas emerges from visiting another household in the Segou region and makes a mark with chalk next to the home’s door to signal that she has visited the house and distributed medicine, as is the custom during SMC campaigns. Drocas managed to reach all six of the eligible children living there.

During the first campaign cycle in July, Drocas reminded Assitar and other caregivers that she would be back almost exactly one month later to administer another dose and would return again in both September and October.

For young children in Mali and other countries across the Sahel region of Africa, Drocas’ work is lifesaving. SMC is a campaign-style intervention that involves giving an antimalarial medicine at monthly intervals for a maximum of four months during the rainy season when malaria transmission spikes.

Photo Credit: Kathryn Malhotra for PMI Impact Malaria, Mali, 2019

SMC has been shown to dramatically reduce malaria cases and deaths in children under 5 years of age, which is the most vulnerable age group affected by malaria. In 2017, according to the World Health Organization, they accounted for about 60 percent of all malaria deaths worldwide. That same year, an estimated 15.7 million children were protected through SMC campaigns, but 13.6 million children who could have benefited from SMC were not reached. Insufficient funding is one of the most common reasons that countries cite to explain this coverage gap.

Through the generosity of the American people, the U.S. President’s Malaria Initiative (PMI) has supported nine countries this year in their efforts to prevent childhood malaria through SMC from July to October. With PMI support, it is expected that about 5 million children will be reached this season.

PMI Impact Malaria has been working with national malaria control programs in Cameroon, Mali, and Niger to support their SMC campaigns and will have reached an estimated 3.7 million children altogether. Here is a snapshot of three children who are benefitting right now from SMC in each of those countries:

Farida, age 3, lives in Niger with her mother, father and three siblings.

Farida, age 3, lives with her parents and two siblings in Niger. Thanks to PMI’s support of Niger’s SMC campaign, Farida has had the chance to take free pills every month until the rainy season is over. Farida was one of 534,389 children in Niger’s Dosso Region who received antimalarial medicine during August’s SMC cycle. Her mother said, “I want her to receive this prevention because I know malaria can kill her.”

Community health worker Fatimatou Ibrahim administers malaria prevention pills to Ruth, age 4, who is so excited to attend school for the first time with her older brother and sister. In July, she was one of nearly 1.6 million children who received free pills during Cameroon’s SMC cycle in the North and Far North regions. The pill should keep Ruth from getting malaria so she can go to school and learn.

Karotumay holds her son, Bedy, age 2, and the card that shows he just received an antimalarial through Mali’s SMC campaign. As a mother of six, she knows the importance of protecting children from malaria. “When children get malaria, they vomit and have such a bad fever that they can convulse and die. It’s very serious and treatment at the health center can be very expensive,” says Karotumay. “In the past, Bedy’s older sister and brothers received SMC to prevent malaria. I know it works.”

Supporting SMC is one hugely impactful way that PMI Impact Malaria is working with countries to fight malaria and save children’s lives. Read more about SMC and PMI Impact Malaria’s support in this August 2

Community health worker Fatimatou Ibrahim administers malaria prevention pills to Ruth, age 4.

019 blog post: Preventing Childhood Malaria through Seasonal Malaria Chemoprevention (SMC): Three Big Lessons.

Sources: World Health Organization—Malaria Key Facts and SMC

Contributions from Kathryn Malhotra and Yves-Marie Bernard, PMI Impact Technical Advisors.

Header Photo Credit: PMI Impact Malaria. Caption: A community health worker administers antimalarial medicine to a child during the first cycle of Mali’s seasonal malaria chemoprevention (SMC) campaign in July.

PMI Impact Malaria is led by Population Services International (PSI) in partnership with Jhpiego, Medical Care Development International (MCDI), and UCSF.

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