Preventing Childhood Malaria Despite COVID-19

Speeches Shim

Wednesday, April 14, 2021
Maimouna Traoré with one of her children
Abdoulaye Goita

Maimouna Traoré lives in Sikasso, southern Mali, and remembers dreading the rainy season 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 being done every year, 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 public health intervention that prevents malaria in young children who take antimalarial medicine monthly during the rainy season when malaria transmission spikes in Africa’s Sahel region. Mali’s 2020 SMC campaign was from July to October.

SMC campaign preparation begins at least six months before the rainy season. As preparations began in early March 2020 it was clear that COVID-19 had become a global pandemic and Mali’s National Malaria Control Program (NMCP) quickly realized that the level of planning for its SMC campaign would need to surpass that of previous years. The NMCP committed to reaching just as many children as in a normal year despite the advent of COVID-19.

With support from President’s Malaria Initiative Impact Malaria (IM), Mali’s NMCP developed a manual establishing a game plan for SMC implementation within the COVID-19 context. Health workers throughout the country became well versed in the guidelines through a series of remote training session.

Results from the first and second cycles showed that most families continued to accept SMC, even as the pandemic grew more pronounced. Out of more than one million children targeted by the 2020 SMC campaign, 95% 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 benefitted from SMC throughout the 2020 malaria transmission season.

“We have 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 parents all the pills at once and teaching us how to administer them ourselves.”

Mali’s NMCP and Impact Malaria collaborated with two radio stations per health district to broadcast messages about the purpose of SMC, the importance of compliance with full treatment, the numbers and dates of cycles, possible adverse effects, and the need to comply with safety measures in the context of COVID-19. This preparation allowed Maimouna and her fellow community members to know what to expect. In 2020, PMI supported Impact Malaria to conduct country-driven SMC campaigns in Cameroon, Mali, and Niger that protected more than four million children from malaria. These important achievements were made possible through the generosity of the American people.

Last updated: September 21, 2021

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