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Providing free anti-malarial treatment to pregnant women in Togo

© UNICEF Togo/2007/Pudlowski
Akouvi, a pregnant mother of two, receives her first pre-natal consultation at the health centre in Goumou-Kopé village, in Togo’s Maritime region. She will also receive treatment to prevent malaria.

By Hadrien Bonnaud

For World Malaria Day, 25 April 2009, UNICEF and its partners are highlighting successes but calling for greater efforts to eradicate the deadly disease. Here is a related story.

GOUMOU-KOPE, Togo, 21 October 2008 – Akouvi, a mother of two, has just walked 3 km to a health centre in this village near Aného, in the Maritime region of Togo. Four months pregnant, she has come to the clinic for her first pre-natal check-up. She is no stranger to tragedy. 

“I lost my first child at birth. He was stillborn,” says Akouvi, who earns her living selling fruits and vegetables. “This time, I want my child to be born healthy. So I need to be healthy, too, and I must avoid catching malaria.”

UNICEF estimates that a child dies from malaria every 30 seconds, with 80 per cent of these deaths occurring in Africa. In Togo, malaria kills one in every 20 people who contract the disease. Most of the victims are children under the age of five. Only about four in 10 young children sleep under an insecticide-treated bed net, and only two in 20 pregnant women receive Intermittent Preventive Treatment (IPT) to avert malaria.

Free treatment, subsidized nets
Administering IPT is simple and effective. Pregnant women receive two doses of anti-malarial medication at specific intervals. The first dose is generally given in the fourth month of pregnancy, and the second dose a month later. Each dose consists of three pills.

Preventing expectant mothers from catching malaria also protects their babies from the serious risks posed by the illness itself and by malaria-related anaemia – and increases the babies’ chances of having a healthy birth weight.

With assistance from UNICEF, the health centre in Goumou-Kopé is currently providing pregnant women with both free IPT and subsidized insecticide-impregnated mosquito nets.

At the clinic, care is provided by Akpegnidou, a local midwife.

“Malaria is a battle,” she says. “We have the means to beat it, but we have to educate mothers. Many women are still giving birth at home … even though the care we are offering is free!”

Maternal and child health linked
Today, the waiting room at the Goumou-Kopé centre is full. About 20 pregnant women are patiently awaiting their turn. Akouvi is the first to go into the examination room. She lies down on the table, and Akpegnidou sounds her abdomen.

© UNICEF Togo/2008/Bonnaud
A month after receiving three anti-malaria pills, Akouvi will return to the clinic to repeat the dosage, improving her baby’s chances of having a healthy birth weight.

“Everything is fine. You can hear the baby moving,” the midwife informs Akouvi. “And now that she is into her fourth month, it is time to prescribe Intermittent Preventive Treatment,” Akpegnidou explains to a visitor, providing Akouvi with three anti-malarial tablets, which she swallows gratefully.

“It is a relief,” says Akouvi. “I worry so much that something might happen to my baby. I want to do everything I can to avoid the risks of getting sick. To be a mother, first you have to take care of yourself. Once you can do that, then you can care for your children.”

In partnership with the Government of Togo, UNICEF is supporting more than 245 community health centres like the one at Goumou-Kopé. In 2008, the initiative aims to provide free IPT to 65 per cent of pregnant women and protect 60 per cent of children under five by making mosquito nets more available.

All of these activities contribute to reaching the Millennium Development Goals on child survival.



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