By: Dr. Aoife Kenny, Volunteer at Women Deliver
Can a memo save lives? Researchers in Kenya have found evidence that perhaps it can. A recent correspondence sent from the Kenyan Government to local health centers has increased the correct use of malaria prevention medication for pregnant women six-fold.
50 million women become pregnant every year in countries with high rates of malarial infections. Pregnant women are particularly vulnerable to infection. Severe cases can be devastating and fatal, leading to complications such as premature deliveries and stillbirths, and up to 10,000 maternal deaths each year. In high-transmission areas, women are likely to be immune to infection, however their babies are not – some infants are born underweight and under-developed, causing up to 200,000 to die every year. (See the WHO and Roll Back Malaria) Read more...
Intermittent preventative treatment for pregnant women (IPTp) is an effective way to save lives by stopping women in high-transmission areas from becoming infected with malaria (see the CDC and our previous blog). IPTp involves giving pregnant women at least two doses of the preventative medication at her antenatal visits. The World Health Organization recommends this approach, alongside insecticide-treated bednets, and provides global guidelines. There is concerted international and local effort to make malaria prevention a possibility for all at-risk women.
However, innovations like this can only be successful if there is sufficient communication on how it can be used. For health systems to be strengthened and patient care to be maximized, this information needs to be disseminated clearly and effectively. Here is an example of how a simple act of correspondence can ensure that a life-saving medication reaches those who need it.
Until recently, in the Gem district of Kenya, only 7 percent of women received the two IPTp doses required for protection. The Kenyan Government’s Division of Malaria Control found that one major barrier to IPTp use was health worker confusion around some timing aspects and safety for HIV positive women. The Government decided to use a simple solution: a memo.
The official memorandum was sent to all government health facilities in the district, and listed the five key points of the government guidelines. The idea was to simplify and reinforce important messages. The memo was supported with a site visit and a follow up memo after six months.
The researchers found that a year after the initial memo, 43 percent of all women who had recently given birth had received two doses of IPTp. This is a dramatic increase from 7 percent before the intervention, and so the Kenyan Government plans to expand the approach to all other districts with low IPTp uptake.
This is yet another example of how a simple, specific and well-delivered message can save and improve the lives of women and their babies.
Flickr photo provided by: DFID - UK Department for International Development