Protecting the precious bond between mothers and children

Published: 12 May 2024

A Mother’s Day call to action

As we celebrate Mother’s Day, we are reminded of the profound and enduring connection between mothers and their children, defined by love, sacrifice, and an unbreakable bond. However, this bond faces a grave threat when the health of the mother is compromised. Among the various health risks pregnant women face, malaria stands out as life-threatening.

Malaria in pregnancy poses a severe risk not only to the mother but also to the unborn child. The disease is particularly perilous due to the mother’s reduced immunity during pregnancy, increasing the risk of severe illness, complications, and even death. Plasmodium falciparum, the most dangerous malaria parasite, is known for accumulating in the placenta. Malaria in pregnancy contributes to 10,000 maternal deaths each year and is also responsible for approximately 100,000 newborn deaths. The consequences for the baby, including low birth weight and premature birth, can also lead to long-term developmental issues.

The challenge is most profound for those in their first pregnancy, most often young women in their late teens and early twenties. It is essential that these young mothers are able to access effective malaria prevention and treatment.

However, we must not resign ourselves to despair. There are viable solutions to combat malaria in pregnancy, which include diagnosis and treatment, prevention through the use of insecticide-treated nets, malaria preventive treatment during pregnancy – usually known as IPTp– these are delivered largely through accessing Antenatal care – however where uptake is low, community-based delivery can be an effective delivery strategy to reach those not accessing ANC.

The importance of political will and multisectoral action in protecting the mother-child bond is undeniable. In March 2024, Health Ministers from African countries with the highest malaria burden committed to rapid action to eliminate deaths from the disease by signing the Yaoundé Declaration. Their pledge aims to address the malaria threat sustainably and equitably across Africa—a continent home to more than 95% of global malaria deaths. This promise arrives at a moment when Africa faces a perfect storm that threatens to disrupt essential life-saving malaria services. These include critical financial shortfalls for malaria programmes, linked to the ongoing global financial crisis, the impact of climate change, insecticide and drug resistance, and humanitarian crises which need to be addressed urgently to prevent malaria upsurges.

To fulfil these commitments, we must urgently turn them into action to decrease malaria mortality and prevent any loss of life from this preventable and treatable disease. Knowing we possess the necessary science, technology, and medicine, we must ask ourselves how we can justify any delay. With coordinated actions, partnerships, research, innovation, resource commitments and ongoing accountability, we can achieve the goal of a malaria-free Africa.

But malaria is just one piece of the puzzle. There are other significant health challenges that risk the mother-child bond, including severe bleeding during childbirth, and other infections for example vertical mother-to-child transmission of HIV and viral hepatitis B. Therefore, preserving this bond requires a comprehensive approach to Reproductive, Maternal, Newborn, Child, and Adolescent Health (RMNCAH). After all, RMNCAH is a crucial measure for advancing towards universal health coverage and remains a priority area for health in African countries. Adopting this comprehensive approach will not only help eliminate preventable deaths but also enhance the health of women, children, and adolescents, fostering their roles in transformative change and sustainable development.

We are not short of strategies or tools to guide us. Whether it’s the African Union Catalytic Framework to end AIDS, TB and Eliminate Malaria in Africa by 2030, the Yaoundé Declaration, or the Maputo Plan of Action 2016-2030, which seeks to engage African Governments, civil society, the private sector, and all multisectoral development partners in a concerted effort to decisively tackle the challenges of RMNCAH. What is needed now is the translation of these frameworks and commitments into action. ALMA remains a vital partner in this endeavour.

ALMA supports countries in the development and implementation of RMNCAH scorecard tools. These tools monitor key RMNCAH indicators, such as the implementation of integrated community case management, access to antenatal care, skilled birth attendants, and vaccination coverage. The country-specific RMNCAH scorecard tools are designed to be owned and led by the countries themselves, tailored with priority indicators chosen from national RMNCAH strategic plans. This process aids decision-makers at various levels in making informed, data-driven decisions that lead to impactful interventions, including addressing healthcare needs, resource allocations, and task.

For instance, in Uganda, the scorecards have pinpointed underperforming regions and districts, leading to targeted interventions such as mapping pregnant women to immediately connect them to antenatal care. In the Équateur province of DRC, the RMNCAH & Nutrition scorecard has been crucial in securing funds to fill critical gaps in maternal and newborn health. In Kenya, the decentralized scorecard system is actively used to make decisions that improve service delivery across the country. These are just a few examples, among many across the continent, that demonstrate the significant impact scorecards have in advancing maternal and child health outcomes throughout Africa.

In light of these comprehensive efforts and commitments, this Mother’s Day offers more than just an opportunity for celebration – it calls for a reinvigorated commitment to action. As nations across Africa and global partners rally behind the Yaoundé Declaration and other critical frameworks, we must channel our collective resources and resolve towards eliminating not just malaria but all preventable maternal and child health challenges. We each must do our part to ensure that the bond between mother and child remains unthreatened by preventable diseases, and that every mother receives the support she needs to nurture the next generation.