My unborn child will live: Monica battles malaria with her first pregnancy

As the rainy season sweeps across the country, so do the relentless buzzing mosquitoes, ‘’carriers’’ of the deadly malaria parasites called Plasmodium.

And as the world marks yet another year of malaria day on the 25th of April 2024 with the theme being, “Accelerating the fight against malaria for a more equitable world,” Monica’s thoughts are on the countless women in the community who face the same fear and uncertainty of living a malaria free life with their unborn children.

Monica[not real name] is a 23-year-old first-time expectant mother in Gulu City. She was rushed to St. Mary’s Hospital Lacor at 2 am on Wednesday 17th April 2024 with high fever, vomiting, diarrhea, chills, headaches, and malaise.

Monica said she started having signs of malaria two days before the 17th and ignored it saying she thought of it as being ordinary tiredness from the day’s work. With her pregnancy in the sixth month, Monica feared not for herself but for the precious little life growing within her.

‘’All my body is wrecked in pain. The fever feels like being in a sauna,’’ she said.

The two days she spent before coming to the hospital were like two weeks to her. Coupled with the scarcity of resources and the exorbitant charges by health facilities, Monica felt the weight of the merciless malaria slowly sucking life out of her.

This is the sixth time Monica has been rushed to the hospital in the wee hours of the morning. ‘’Last time I was brought in unconscious,’’ Monica recalls.

As she lay recovering in the hospital bed, Monica told us that this was the fourth time she was coming to the hospital with malaria and high blood pressure.

Joyce Anena, a senior midwife who worked at the maternity ward of Lacor for the past 14 years disclosed that malaria, because of the changes in women’s immune systems during pregnancy and the presence of a new organ (the placenta) with new places for parasites to bind, cause pregnant women to lose some of their immunity to malaria infection.

‘’Pregnant or not, sleep under a treated mosquito net and don’t ignore signs of malaria. Pregnant mothers mostly should be very close to the hospital in case of any indicator of malaria as it causes miscarriage,’’ Anena advised.

She added that it is a particular problem for women in their first and second pregnancies.

Anena further disclosed that for uncomplicated malaria, the hospital always treats the patients for free on Artemether/lumefantrine, mostly known as Coartem.

However, she added that for complicated malaria the patients are to buy IV artesunate which the World Health Organization recommends for the treatment of severe malaria but because of the high price, most patients struggle to get proper treatment.

Malaria is the leading cause of admission among children with 1,989 counts standing at 22.46% at St. Mary’s Hospital Lacor. It is also the third leading cause of admission among adults with 2,095 counts as of the 2022-2023 Annual Report of the hospital.

Despite advances in medicine and technology, the burden of malaria continues to weigh heavily on those less fortunate. Inequity, like a silent predator, bites hardest on the vulnerable, leaving them exposed and defenseless.

A study by the National Institute of Cancer, US conducted between 2008 and 2016 at Lacor Hospital has linked repeated malaria infection to Burkitt’s Lymphoma, a form of cancer in children aged 5-11.

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