Preventing Childhood Malaria in Mali as the Pandemic Widens

By Anne Bulchis, PMI Impact Malaria Communications Manager, and the PMI Impact Malaria Mali team. Contributions from Charlotte Eddis, PMI Impact Malaria Senior Technical Advisor.

Originally published on the PMI Impact Malaria blog.

Maimouna Traoré lives in the Sikasso region of Mali and can easily remember when the rainy season was deeply dreaded. After all, it was only a few years ago. As she recalls, “In the past, many children in our area would die of severe malaria with seizures, but thanks to the SMC that is being done every year now, there are rarely cases of malaria in our families. A child who takes three doses of medication per month should not get malaria.”

SMC, short for seasonal malaria chemoprevention, is a campaign style public health intervention to prevent malaria in young children. It involves giving an antimalarial medicine at monthly intervals throughout the rainy season when malaria transmission spikes in Africa’s Sahel region. This year, Mali’s SMC campaign is from July to October.

SMC campaign preparation involves microplanning that begins at least six months before the first campaign cycle. In early March, when it was clear that COVID-19 had become a global pandemic, Mali’s national malaria control program (NMCP) quickly realized that the level of in-depth planning for its SMC campaign would need to surpass that of previous years.

While Mali understood that 2020 would be far from a normal SMC campaign year, the country’s NMCP committed to a goal of reaching just as many children as they had agreed on during earlier planning sessions prior to the pandemic.

With support from PMI Impact Malaria, Mali’s NMCP created a technical working group that developed a manual to establish the appropriate course of action at all levels of SMC implementation within the COVID-19 context. Health workers throughout the country became well versed in the guidelines through a series of remote training sessions.

Results from Mali’s first and second campaign cycles show that the vast majority of families have continued to accept SMC, even as the pandemic grows more pronounced. Out of a targeted number of more than a million children, 95% of them were reached with antimalarial medicine during the first cycle and 98% for the second cycle.

Maimouna’s three children are part of this vast group of youngsters who are benefitting from SMC throughout the 2020 malaria transmission season.

Of course, SMC looks a bit different this year.

“We’ve seen that health workers are using hand sanitizer and face coverings as they carry out SMC. In previous years, it was the health workers themselves who administered the first dose and the parents the other two,” Maimouna said. “But this year, because of the pandemic, they are giving us all the pills at once and teaching us how to administer them ourselves.”

Maimouna Traoré with her son. Credit: Abdoulaye Goita, PMI Impact Malaria Mali

When a pair of community health workers arrived at Maimouna’s door in July for the first SMC cycle, she was not surprised because she had heard a message about the upcoming SMC campaign on the community radio a few weeks beforehand.

Mali’s NMCP and PMI Impact Malaria collaborated to contract with two radio stations per health district to broadcast messages about the purpose of SMC, why compliance with full treatment is so important, the numbers and dates of cycles, possible adverse effects, and the need to comply with safety measures in the context of COVID-19. Through this preparation, Maimouna knew what to expect.

Reflecting on the impact of SMC in her village, Maimouna shared, “I sincerely thank supporters of SMC and also ask my country to continue working with partners who are helping us.”

This year, PMI Impact Malaria is supporting country-driven SMC campaigns in Cameroon, Mali, and Niger that are reaching more than 4 million children to protect them from malaria. This level of impact is possible through the generosity of the American people, by way of the U.S. President’s Malaria Initiative (PMI).

Header Photo Caption: Korotoumou Sagara holds up her SMC card in Selingué, Mali showing that she received antimalarial medication during the first cycle of Mali’s 2020 SMC campaign. Credit: PMI Impact Malaria Mali

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

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