Protecting children from malaria despite COVID-19

Paediatric nurse Mohammed Sani Muftaw in Ghana - Photo: John Passah/ NMCP Ghana

Mohammed Sani Muftaw is a paediatric nurse and sub-district leader in Savelugu, located in the Northern Region of Ghana. He leads a team of volunteers that go house to house to administer seasonal malaria chemoprevention (SMC) to children aged three months to five years living in the community. The team has been implementing SMC since 2015 when the intervention was first introduced in 23 districts in the Upper East and Upper West Regions of Ghana.

In 2015, approximately 366,000 children were protected with SMC. By 2019, that figure had almost tripled, with an estimated 965,000 children receiving SMC. The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, however, threatened to disrupt this lifesaving programme, putting many young lives at risk during the rainy season.

Nevertheless, Mohammed and his team rose to the new challenge and quickly adapted to deliver SMC in the context of the pandemic. Mohammed proudly notes that “all volunteers and health workers wore face masks and were required to maintain a distance of at least two metres. On entering the house, we washed our hands with water and soap and disinfected our tools and materials before interacting with the household.” He adds, “unlike in previous years when volunteers gave the first dose of the SMC medication to children, we gave the medicines to the caregivers to dissolve and give to the children while we instructed and observed from a distance.”

Due to social distancing measures, implementers also used non-conventional channels such as mobile vans, radio announcements and social media platforms to communicate with local communities and coordinate the roll-out of the intervention.

According to Dr Keziah Malm, the programme manager of the National Malaria Control Programme, despite the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, Ghana was successfully able to reach an estimated 1.05 million children in the Northern Region with SMC, exceeding the number reached in 2019 despite the challenges.