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African Health Officials Advocate Integrated Health Care in Pregnancy

Health officials from six African countries meeting in Accra have resolved to work together to improve health screening during pregnancy to control and prevent the spread of malaria and transmission of HIV from mother to child.

Health officials say malaria alone causes more than 10,000 maternal deaths and 200,000 infant deaths in Africa each year.

Dr. Antoine Serufilira, the World Health Organization's Africa regional adviser on prevention of Malaria in pregnancy, stressed the importance of networking among healthcare providers in dealing with malaria and HIV in pregnancy. "We have to integrate our services, we have to reinforce collaboration of our programs, we have to work together, we have to plan, we have to monitor together, and we have to inform each other of what we are doing, so we can use efficiently the resources we have," he said.

Poor collaboration between national malaria control programs and reproductive health programs, resistance to drugs and cost of medicines are some of the new challenges facing health officials on the African continent.

Inam Chitsike is the WHO regional adviser for prevention of mother to child HIV transmission. She says health care services should be integrated, so that diseases such as malaria and HIV are detected and treated during pre-natal and ante-natal care. "Which means that, if a mother comes for ANC (antenatal care), you offer her interventions for malaria in pregnancy, you should also offer her at the same time prevention for mother-to-child transmission (of HIV). So, it's not like a small project here, or a small project there. If you are delivering a health service to a pregnant woman, and you do not take account the impact of malaria on the pregnancy, you do not take account the impact of HIV on the pregnancy, then, really, I'm afraid that service is not a quality service," she says.

Dr. Olusola Odujinrin, a reproductive healthcare specialist at the WHO country office in Nigeria, called on governments to do more to reduce the cost burden on their citizens. "When you are thinking of the people, especially in poor resource countries, it's not going to be that easy to get people to buy these drugs, some of them are quite expensive, their more expensive than what we used to use in the past. So, government must now be alive to its responsibilities, to see how best some of these drugs can be subsidized," he said.

The meeting was organized by the WHO and the John Hopkins University Organization Specializing in Maternal and Child Health.

Participants are from Nigeria, Gambia, Ghana, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Uganda.