World Malaria Day: Reducing women’s vulnerability in Sudan

Apr 23, 2010

Mosquito net distribution campaign, Southern Sudan. (Jenn Warren/UNDP)

World Malaria Day, 25 April, is an opportunity to call attention to the global efforts to control this life-threatening disease transmitted to people through the bites of infected mosquitoes. Malaria infects more than one quarter billion people every year, causing nearly one million deaths. Ninety per cent of malaria death occur in Africa, where the disease has serious economic impacts, slowing economic growth and development. However, malaria can be prevented – and cured.

In Southern Sudan, where malaria has a high and continued incidence affecting up to 36 per cent of the population, UNDP has been scaling up malaria prevention, diagnosis and treatment – especially for pregnant women, who are particularly vulnerable to the disease. Pregnancy reduces women’s immunity to malaria, also increasing chances of severe anaemia, spontaneous abortion, stillbirth and even death. For the unborn child, maternal malaria increases the risk of premature delivery and low birth weight – a leading cause of child mortality.

UNDP’s Malaria Control Programme, a partnership with the World Health Organization, the Malaria Consortium and World Vision, among others, is also producing up-to-date statistics, which will be used by the Ministry of Health and other organizations to help curb the disease. In addition, UNDP trained thousands of health care personnel to help the population better prevent and respond to the epidemic.
The Programme was funded by the Global Fund to fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria and came to a formal close last month.

“The Programme’s interventions were hugely successful,” said Gerard Van Mourik, UNDP’s Global Fund Coordinator. “Well over 700,000 long lasting insecticide-treated nets were distributed to target populations across Southern Sudan. Almost 83,000 pregnant women were given intermittent preventive treatment – with specific antimalarial drugs, use of insecticide-treated bednets and good management of maternal malaria and anaemia.”

The particular vulnerability of pregnant women to malaria has long been neglected, but new approaches, such as the ones offered by UNDP’s initiative, with intermittent preventative treatment using antimalarial drugs, offer hope for reducing the burden of malaria in pregnancy and improving the health of mothers and newborns.

Martha’s story

In 2009, UNDP’s Malaria Control Programme helped establish a Primary Health Care Unit in Wouwou, Lakes State, in Southern Sudan. Working with the community-based organization Arkangelo Ali Association, UNDP made the centre operational while at the same time distributing preventive treatment to community members – particularly pregnant women.

“I no longer have to walk long distances to access treatment,” said Martha, one of the Programme beneficiaries.

Martha also reported a reduced number of malaria cases in her family.

UNDP’s next Global Fund-resourced project is set to begin in June 2010 and will focus on strengthening health systems in Southern Sudan, with construction and renovations of teaching institutions, training workshops, laboratories, blood banks, antenatal clinics, and community centers.

The Global Fund to fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria was created to dramatically increase resources to fight three of the world's most devastating diseases, and to direct those resources to areas of greatest need. UNDP has been the principle recipient of Global Fund resources since 2004 and currently manages five projects on behalf of the Government of Southern Sudan.

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