by Hon. Mobina S.B. Jaffer The Afro News Ottawa
Prime Minister Harper should be congratulated for paving the way to providing better maternal health services for all women. However, as the co-chair for the Malaria Caucus, I urge him to include malaria in the maternal health strategies, as the two go hand in hand. Malaria, a disease that plagues Africa, victimizes millions of pregnant woman and children each and every year. In this region alone, roughly 30 million pregnant women are exposed to this disease annually. Not only are these women forced to shoulder the physical and mental difficulties caused by this disease, they also are forced to accept the burden of knowing that the well-being of the children they are carrying is in danger. Pregnant woman who have contracted malaria are more likely to experience spontaneous abortions, stillbirths, anemia, fetal distress and low birth weights. It is for these reasons why malaria should not be excluded from discussions about maternal health.
For decades, hunger, poverty and AIDS, have all monopolized the global spotlight, leading many to falsely believe that malaria is simply not a priority. This is an unfortunate misconception, because the only thing that sets malaria apart from other global catastrophes is that we can control malaria, we hold the solution to this problem in the palm of our hand. Insecticide treated mosquito nets, anti-malarial drugs and vaccines have proven to be highly effective in preventing and treating this disease. Mosquito nets reduce the risk of placental malaria in all pregnancies by 21%. Anti-malarial drugs and vaccines have proven to have an even more dramatic impact, reducing neonatal mortality by more than 60%. Therefore, it is quite clear that the question is not about effectiveness, but rather, about accessibility.
In addition to reducing mortality rates, a malaria outreach initiative would also improve public health systems in African communities. The use of reliable and rapid diagnostic tests for malaria will ensure that illnesses are properly diagnosed. This would guarantee that over treatment does not occur and that costs are not unnecessarily increased. In addition to this, diagnostic tests would enable clinicians to distinguish malaria from other illnesses that have similar symptoms such as pneumonia and diarrhea, both of which are major childhood killers.
Coupling malaria with maternal health does more than just soothe our conscience. By giving malaria the attention it deserves we would be investing our time and resources wisely. Not only would focussing on malaria have positive indirect effects, it would also contribute to the fulfillment of several Millennium Development Goals. Maternal health, combating AIDS and malaria and reducing child mortality were three of the eight goals set out by the United Nations in 2001. Not only does contracting malaria have several devastating effects on pregnant women, 88% of people who die of malaria are children under the age of 5. Therefore, by controlling this disease we would not only be taking a stride toward improving maternal health but would also be dramatically reducing child mortality. In a time where the economy is fragile, resources are scarce and time is precious, it would be simply irresponsible to leave this unnoticed. With the 2015 deadline looming, we must do everything in our power to make sure we reach our targets.
Every thirty seconds someone in Africa dies of malaria as mosquitoes continue to feast on the flesh of pregnant women and young children. I have personally witnessed this disease in action. I have watched young children, who are not capable of expressing in words the pain that is travelling through their bodies, slowly suffer. I have spoken to pregnant women who are struggling to accept the fact that they may not be able to see their children grow up. The solution is at our finger tips, and we must no longer withhold it. Pregnant women in Africa should be able to bask in the glories of motherhood. Young children should be able to live past their fifth birthday. Government officials are elected to represent you, they are your voice. I urge you to utilize the power you exercise over Parliamentarians. I ask you to write Prime Minister Harper and encourage him to include malaria outreach in maternal health strategies. Let us work together and fight for the lives of those who are unable to fight for themselves.
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