As we celebrate Mother’s Day this weekend, millions of moms around the world are working hard to protect their family and community from malaria – a 7-days-a-week burden that carries a heavy cost.
Women have long been the first line of defense against this deadly mosquito-borne disease. They ensure the family sleeps under bed nets at night, care for sick kids and promptly detect malaria symptoms before it’s too late, and tote them on often-long journeys to a health facility.
And this work often extends beyond the family. Women make up 70% of the community health workforce (CHW), providing frontline defense against malaria in some of the most remote, hard-to-reach communities. And yet, only 25% of these women CHW’s hold senior roles.
Women health workers are not just under-valued in the malaria fight; they’re often unpaid: they spend four times as many hours on unpaid work compared to male health workers, according to researchers from the Swiss Tropical Health Institute and Columbia University.
All this unpaid, informal labor helps keep women out of school and out of work, preventing them from achieving economic independence.
AISHATU MODIBO’S STORY
Since 2010, the Boko Haram armed conflict has created a humanitarian crisis that has displaced more than 3.2 million people and caused a breakdown in the delivery of essential health services, worsening the vulnerability of pregnant women and children.
The Global Fund provides support to all functional health facilities in the rural, urban, and hard-to-reach areas to reach vulnerable populations such as IDPs.
Five years ago, Aishatu’s family fled from their community when insurgents took over their hometown of Kanumburi in Borno State, Nigeria. They walked 25 miles through the wilderness to reach relative safety. They then boarded a vehicle and rode to what is now their host community in Gombe State, Nigeria.
In Gombe State, Aishatu was trained as a Community Oriented Resource Person (CORP) for a program supported through Global Fund and implemented by Catholic Relief Services, which provides community-based malaria treatment to displaced persons.
“I became a CORP to help myself and my community. I feel more respected and I’m happy to be doing something worthwhile. It has fueled my medical aspirations.”
Moms not only bear the brunt of responsibility in fighting this disease. They also are disproportionately vulnerable to contracting the disease – particularly during pregnancy.
Malaria risk increases exponentially during pregnancy. The parasite targets the placenta and puts the mother and unborn baby at greater risk of anemia, stunted growth, and death. In 2021, 13.3 million out of 40 million pregnant women (33%) in sub-Saharan Africa were infected with malaria, resulting in an estimated 200,000 still-births, 10,000 maternal deaths, and 900,000 children born with low birth rate.
This century, the rate of pregnant women sleeping under bed nets (from 3% in 2000 to 53% in 2021) and taking preventative treatments has increased substantially. Today, 35 African countries have adopted national IPTp (Intermittent Preventive Treatment in Pregnancy) programs, with 35% of pregnant women in these countries taking the full 3-dose regimen. While these numbers are a substantial improvement compared to previous decades, the reality remains that millions of pregnant women in Africa are still not adequately protected from malaria.
LUCRECIA VINZA’S STORY
Lucrecia Vinza’s most frightening life experience was getting malaria while pregnant. Doctors told her she couldn’t receive treatment until after delivering her baby. The night before giving birth, she developed a high fever and chills and was rushed to the hospital. Her daughter was born with and treated for malaria, while she developed severe anemia, requiring multiple blood transfusions to get back on her feet.
“I try to help to eliminate malaria. I decided to fight for my kids, and the kids at the school where I teach, to not get malaria. When kids are sick, I worry about them and their families.
As a teacher, I can see kids who are sick. Sometimes I have take them to get tested myself. If they have malaria, I send a note home explaining what is needed for treatment.
All the teachers know what it feels like to have malaria, so we adapt our approach as they come back to school little by little. If kids aren’t sick, they can learn and be happy at school.”
United to Beat Malaria has long been committed to empowering women by providing IPTp and bed nets to the most vulnerable mothers, children, and pregnant women; and also supporting health worker trainings. This Mother’s Day, consider honoring your mom by providing a life-saving bed net or IPTp treatment to a mother and child in a malaria-endemic country. It only costs as little as $10 and you can send your mom an e-card notifying her of the gift made in her honor.