Malaria infection during pregnancy is a significant public health concern, with substantial health risks for the pregnant woman and her foetus. Pregnant women are particularly vulnerable to malaria as pregnancy reduces a woman’s immunity to the disease, making her more susceptible to the infection and increasing her risk of illness, severe anaemia and death. For the foetus, maternal malaria increases the risk of miscarriage, still birth, premature delivery, as well as low birth weight.
In Siaya County, Kenya, malaria has greatly affected the economic growth and development of most families perpetuating the vicious cycle of poverty.
Belinda vividly remembers when she was pregnant with her last born, now nine months old. She fell very sick from malaria but with the intervention of Pamela, her Community Health Volunteer, she was referred to Onyieng Health Facility and was able to receive prompt treatment.
“Malaria nearly killed me when I was pregnant as I couldn’t walk or eat. It was at midnight when I called Pamela and explained to her my symptoms. She advised me to go to the health facility. While there, I was treated and given a lasting insecticide treated mosquito net. I don’t know where I would be without Pamela, perhaps dead,” she adds.
Belinda, who is a tailor by profession, could not go work as a result of the sickness. Her sewing machine, which is at the corner of her house, is now used as a table as she is yet to resume her job. Through her sewing business, she would earn at least 2,500 Kenya Shillings per month. Now, she has to depend on her husband who works at construction sites at Bondo town, 10 kilometres from where they live.
"Whenever I visit pregnant mothers, I talk to them about the risk of having malaria during pregnancy and educate them on the importance of antenatal care,” says Pamela.
Community Health Volunteers like Pamela are trained and equipped by Amref Health Africa in Kenya’s Global Fund Malaria Round 10 project in close collaboration with community based organization on the preventive messages, surveillance and how to advocate for early testing and treatment in communities. The health volunteers are also encouraged to refer pregnant mothers with symptoms of malaria for fast testing and treatment at nearest health facilities.
Achieving a malaria-free generation starts with women like Pamela, who as a community health volunteer provides door-to-door visits. The engagement of health volunteers in the communities has helped enhance the progress, especially in reducing the mortality rate of malaria related complications.
By: Maureen Cherongis