Looking Back and Looking Forward: Malaria in Pregnancy and the MHTF

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By: Samantha Lattof, Project Manager, Maternal Health Task Force, Women and Health Initiative

Coverage of malaria prevention, screening, and treatment among pregnant women remains low in many places in sub-Saharan Africa, despite clear evidence of effective interventions and significant investment in this area.  Experts agree that increasing coverage of these interventions will require close cooperation between the maternal health and malaria communities.

Given the Maternal Health Task Force’s (MHTF) experience convening the maternal health community and allied fields to debate and reach consensus on critical issues, our entry into malaria in pregnancy (MiP) began with hosting the technical meeting “Malaria in Pregnancy: A Solvable Problem—Bringing the Maternal Health and Malaria Communities Together.” The meeting was held in Istanbul, Turkey in June 2012, in collaboration with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, and PATH.  Several challenges and opportunities to improve MiP outcomes identified in Istanbul have since been explored in greater detail by our partners.  For example, PATH and the World Health Organization are now collaborating on a one-year “Prevention of Malaria in Pregnancy” grant to reduce adverse outcomes due to malaria in pregnancy by increasing the use of intermittent preventive treatment in pregnancy with sulfadoxine-pyrimethamine (IPTp-SP) and insecticide treated bed-nets in selected countries in East Africa.

Following this initial technical meeting, the MHTF formed a panel at the American Public Health Association’s October 2012 conference on “Malaria in Pregnancy: An urgent yet solvable problem uniting the maternal health and malaria communities in Africa.”  The panel highlighted the findings of the Istanbul meeting and shared findings from Nigeria and Mozambique that were used to frame both successes and challenges in addressing MiP in clinical and community settings.

At our Global Maternal Health Conference 2013 (GMHC2013) in Arusha, Tanzania in January 2013, MiP was well represented with three panels, 17 presentations, and an informal luncheon. The conference also provided an opportunity to disseminate the updated WHO Policy Recommendation on IPTp-SP and “Malaria Protection in Pregnancy: A lifesaving intervention for preventing neonatal mortality and low birth weight,” a brief developed jointly by the President’s Malaria Initiative, the WHO, and MCHIP; the brief is available in both French and English.

In addition to our efforts to foster dialogue between the maternal health and malaria communities, the MHTF participates in Roll Back Malaria’s MiP working group and coordinates an MiP blog series with posts from experts working to address MiP throughout sub-Saharan Africa. Posts share lessons from specific countries, organizations, and projects; make the case for strengthening the antenatal care platform across sub-Saharan Africa; and raise questions about next steps for increasing coverage of MiP interventions.

Finally, our MiP topics page highlights resourcesrecent publications, videos, and blog posts, along with the organizations working on MiP.  The MHTF is always looking for new MiP resources, research, and news.  We welcome any feedback or resources you have to share on our topics page.

The MHTF looks forward to staying involved in MiP through technical meetings, through our knowledge management system, and through external collaboration with our partners.  To celebrate World Malaria Day on April 25, we will be continuing our MiP blog series, participating in USAID’s #malariabuzz Twitter chat, and highlighting new resources and research on our topics page.

To watch malaria in pregnancy presentations from GMHC2013 and the Istanbul meeting, visit the MHTF’s MiP Vimeo channel.

If you have feedback on our MiP topics page or are interested in submitting a guest post or cross-posting for our ongoing MiP blog series, please contact Senior Research and Evaluation Manager Samantha Lattof at slattof@hsph.harvard.edu.