Malaria Matters

A buzzing mosquito is annoying enough on its own, but what are the effects on a pregnant woman? That mosquito could mean life or death for you and your unborn child. The WHO estimates that annually, 30 million African women living in malaria-endemic areas become pregnant. Malaria is responsible for 20% of maternal deaths, making it a more lethal killer of pregnant women than HIV/AIDS. Undoubtedly, malaria is an important culprit we must pay attention to in the battle against maternal mortality.

Malaria is a life-threatening but entirely preventable disease that spreads through mosquito bites. Caused by the parasite Plasmodium falciparum, malaria thrives in tropical and subtropical regions. A bitten victim will experience a fever, headache, and joint aches as the P. falciparum parasites attack the red blood cells. Annually, the disease kills more than one million a year, the majority of deaths being concentrated in sub-Saharan Africa in children under the age of five.

Malaria-infected pregnant women experience more pregnancy and birth complications than healthy pregnant women; their infants are also adversely affected. If bitten by an infected mosquito, a pregnant woman will be at higher risk for anemia, miscarriages, premature births, and delivering underweight babies. The babies are put at greater risk once born because they are usually premature and underdeveloped, lacking the vitality they need in order to survive.

A three-step approach has been taken toward malaria prevention among pregnant women. This approach includes treatment with antimalarial drugs, insecticide-treated bed nets to protect pregnant women from mosquito bites, and the management of malaria among pregnant women. The effectiveness of this treatment stems from the fact that many pregnant women do not know if they are infected and can be asymptomatic. By providing all pregnant women with antimalarial drugs and preventative measures, healthcare workers are able to lower the incidence of malaria.

Malaria in pregnancy often has devastating consequences to mother and child; addressing this issue would simultaneously address maternal mortality. Sam Kutesa, president of the UN General Assembly, is heartened by the progress being made in malaria prevention but cautions the world to stay aware. “To reach our goals, we must have sustained investments and political commitments for malaria control and elimination,” he said in a statement to Leadership. We, along with international leaders, need to commit ourselves to women’s health and lowering maternal mortality so every household, rich or poor, urban or rural, has access to healthcare.

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