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09.08.2004 Health

Malaria in pregnant women kills 200,000 babies

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Accra, Aug. 9, GNA - About 200,000 newborn babies die each year in Africa as a result of malaria in pregnancy, which could be prevented, Dr Melville George, World Health Organisation Representative in Ghana, said on Monday.
He said malaria was not only a threat to pregnant women but to their unborn babies as well.
Dr George said this at the opening of a 10-day workshop on Advocacy for Malaria Control in Pregnancy in West African Epidemiological Bloc for Anglophone countries in Accra.
The meeting organised by WHO is being attended by programme managers of malaria control, reproductive health and information education and communication/behavioural change personnel from Ghana, Nigeria, Liberia, The Gambia and Sierra Leone.
Participants would be discussing the scaling up of interventions and share experiences on progress and challenges in the implementation of the Intermittent Preventive Treatment for Malaria in Pregnancy. Dr George noted that malaria was a preventable disease but was a major contributory factor to the poverty plaguing Africa.
In Africa, 30 million women living in malaria endemic areas become pregnant each year. In Ghana maternal deaths attributable to malaria in pregnancy are estimated at nine per cent.
Even though documentation on malaria in pregnancy is not available, it accounts for over 40 per cent of all Out Patients Department (OPD) cases in hospitals.
Dr George expressed the concern raised in the Abuja Declaration in 2000 that at least 60 per cent of pregnant women and children should have access to Insecticide Treated Nets by 2005 to roll back malaria. He said it was unfortunate that only nine out of the 16 countries in the West African Bloc had adopted the recommended strategies agreed on during the Abuja Summit in 2000 on Intermittent Preventive Treatment.
Dr George noted that the WHO Expert Committee on Malaria had recommended that an intermittent treatment with an effective anti-malarial drug be made available as a routine part of antenatal care for women in their first and second pregnancies in highly endemic areas.
"It is sad to note that the use of these interventions have been very low on the Continent with coverage rates as low as less than 10 per cent," he said.
He said the emergence of chloroquine-resistant malaria parasites, low attendance at antenatal clinics; pregnant women not making use of various interventions put in place to fight the disease and the unavailability of essential supplies had led to the increase in the incidence of the disease.
Dr George called for an advocacy strategy that would galvanise action at all levels to include the policy makers, opinion leaders and other key members of the communities.
Dr Sylvia Deganus, an Obstetrics and Gynaecology Specialist at the Tema General Hospital, said Africans had taken malaria for granted for far too long and that the time had come to put in place all the interventions to finally roll back malaria.
She said malaria was the cause of infant deaths, still born babies, miscarriages during pregnancy and low birth weights making the chances of these babies not surviving higher.
She said the treatment of malaria in pregnancy should be revisited to save not only the life of the mother but the unborn baby as well. Dr Henrietta Odoi-Agyarko, Deputy Director of Public Health, Ghana Health Service, who presided at the function, called for advocacy skills to effect behaviour change in people and also effect policy change as well as strategic action plans to eliminate malaria from Africa.

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