UNICEF provides free preventive anti-malarial treatment to pregnant women in Togo

Goumou-Kopé, Togo, 20 octobre 2008

  • Akouvi walked three kilometers this morning to get to a health center in Goumou-Kopé, a village located a dozen kilometers from Aného in the Maritime region. This mother of two is a fruit and vegetable vendor, and she is four months pregnant. She has come to the health center for her first pre-natal check-up.

"I lost my first child at birth. He was still-born", explained Akouvi. "This time, I want my child to be born healthy. So I need to be healthy too, and I must avoid catching malaria" she adds.

UNICEF estimates that a child dies from malaria every 30 seconds, with 90% of these deaths occurring in Africa. In Togo, malaria kills one in every twenty people who contract the disease. Most of the victims are children below the age of five. Only four in six children sleep under a mosquito net, and only two in twenty pregnant women receive Intermittent Preventive Treatment (IPT).

Administering IPT simply involves providing pregnant women with two treatments. The first dose is given once the mother can feel the baby moving, generally in the fourth month, and the second dose is given one month later; each dose consists of three pills. By preventing expectant mothers from catching malaria, babies are protected from the serious risks posed by malaria and malaria-related anaemia, and their chances of being born with a healthy birth weight are increased.

Thanks to assistance from UNICEF, the health center in Goumou-Kopé is currently providing pregnant women with both free IPT, and subsidized insecticide-impregnated mosquito nets (1.20 USD each).

Ensuring a healthy birth

At the clinic in Goumou-Kopé, care is provided by Akpegnidou, a local midwife and "mother to a good many of the children in the community", as she likes to say.

"Malaria is a battle. Today, we have the means to beat it, but we have to educate mothers. Many women are still giving birth at home without having seen a doctor during their pregnancy! Even though the care we are offering is free!" reports a frustrated Akpegnidou.

Today, the waiting room at the health center is full. Some twenty pregnant women are patiently awaiting their turn. Akouvi is the first one into the examination room. She lies down on the table, and Akpegnidou sounds the patient's abdomen.

"Everything is fine. You can hear the baby moving", the midwife informs us. "And now that she is into her fourth month, it is time to prescribe Intermittent Preventive Treatment" Akpegnidou says, as she takes out three anti-malarial tablets. Akouvi is grateful and swallows each of the pills.

"It is a relief" she sighs. "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." Akouvi explains, "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 centers. In 2008, the initiative aims to provide free IPT to 65% of pregnant women and protect 60% of children under five years old by making available cheaper impregnated mosquito nets. These activities contribute to reaching the Millennium Development Goals related to child survival. In Togo, UNICEF aims to reduce the child mortality rate by 15% by 2012.

by Hadrien Bonnaud