Originally published on the PMI Impact Malaria blog.
By Anne Bulchis, PMI Impact Malaria Communications Manager, with content from PMI Impact Malaria’s Cameroon and Niger teams.
“No child in my community has had severe malaria in recent years,” explained Hadiza, a 39-year-old mother who lives in Niger, where malaria transmission spikes dramatically during the rainy season.
Parents who have seen a child sick from severe malaria don’t ever forget it. High fever, convulsions, and respiratory distress are common. It’s a disease that progresses rapidly.
Severe malaria is a major cause of death among young children in sub-Saharan Africa. In areas of high malaria transmission, children under five years of age are one of the most vulnerable groups affected by malaria because they have not yet developed partial immunity to the disease. In 2018, children under five accounted for 67% of the estimated 405,000 worldwide deaths from malaria.
While early access to effective treatment is crucial for preventing progression of malaria to severe illness, it’s much better to protect children from malaria in the first place.
Use of an insecticide-treated bed net (ITN) is one key way to prevent malaria. Another, seasonal malaria chemoprevention (SMC), is a campaign style intervention that involves giving an antimalarial medicine each month during the rainy season when malaria transmission spikes. The goal is to treat any existing infections and maintain protective drug concentrations in the blood throughout a complete transmission season. The World Health Organization (WHO) has recommended SMC since 2012 for children between the ages of 3 and 59 months in areas of Africa’s Sahel region with highly seasonal transmission. (You can learn more about SMC here: https://impactmalaria.org/how-we-work/seasonal-malaria-chemoprevention)
Training, supervising, and paying thousands of health workers to administer antimalarials to millions of children is no small feat, especially in the context of a global pandemic. Through a series of adaptations, PMI Impact Malaria supported SMC campaigns in Cameroon and Niger that reached over three million children with this lifesaving intervention while minimizing COVID-19 exposure to beneficiaries and health workers.
For Hadiza, SMC is not only a public health intervention that helps keep her children malaria-free—it’s also meaningful work. Hadiza is a community health worker (CHW) and SMC distributor who has been committed to the health of her community since 2009 when she started her CHW role.
“Working for my community gives me personal satisfaction,” said Hadiza. “I make sure that every child in my neighborhood gets medicine during the campaign.”
In another small town in Niger, called Illela, a little girl named Samsiya Idi benefitted from the dedication of CHWs like Hadiza. While helping Samsiya take antimalarial medicine during the third cycle of Niger’s SMC campaign in September, Samsiya’s mother Mariama said with a smile that “a healthy child makes a happy home.” According to Mariama, SMC helped Samsiya continue to partake in her two favorite activities of pretending to be a chef and playing with dolls all throughout the summer and fall.
Further down the continent and about a month later, in the Far North region of Cameroon, 4-year-old Wadale sat with his parents while receiving antimalarial medicine from a local CHW. As both parents described the relief they felt in having Wadale part of SMC during the whole malaria transmission season, it was an incredible reminder of the many millions of parents throughout Africa’s Sahel region who were able to seek some comfort these last several months in knowing that their children were protected from malaria.
This lifesaving, country-driven work is made possible by the support of the U.S. President’s Malaria Initiative (PMI) through the generosity of the American people.
Header Photo Caption: Wadale receiving antimalarial medicine during Cameroon’s 2020 SMC campaign. Credit: PMI Impact Malaria
PMI Impact Malaria is funded and technically assisted by the U.S. President’s Malaria Initiative (PMI) and led by Population Services International (PSI) in partnership with Jhpiego, Medical Care Development International (MCDI), and UCSF.