Wanna fight malaria? Educate mothers

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If you thought malaria can only be fought with the help of medicines, think again. Researchers from the University of Alberta have found that maternal education can act as a more potent weapon (social vaccine) against childhood malaria than biomedical vaccine.

In the study, published in the journal Pathogens and Global Health, researchers tested 647 children between the ages of two months and five years. All of them lived in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The information about their demographics, socio-economic status, maternal education, bed net use and recent illness involving fever were collected from their parents or guardians. The scientists found a correlation between a mother’s education and malaria risk to her children, that is, the higher a mother’s education, the lesser chance of her child being infected with malaria.

“This was not a small effect. Maternal education had an enormous effect — equivalent to or greater than the leading biomedical vaccine against malaria,” said Michael Hawkes, senior author and assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of Alberta, in a news release.

The scientists found a correlation between a mother's education and malaria risk to her children, that is, the higher a mother's education, the lesser chance of her child being infected with malaria

123 out of the 647 children in the study tested positive for malaria. The prevalence of malaria in children of mothers with no education was 30 per cent. If mothers had received primary education, that rate dipped to 17 per cent. Mothers who had received education beyond primary school only had a 15 per cent prevalence of malaria in their young children.

“It doesn’t take a lot of education to teach a mom how to take simple precautions to prevent malaria in her child. All it takes is knowing the importance of using a bed net and knowing the importance of seeking care when your child has a fever,” said Cary Ma, a medical student at the U of A and a study co-author. “These are fairly straight forward, simple messages in the context of health and hygiene that can easily be conveyed, usually at an elementary or primary school level.”

The researchers say their work builds upon previous studies that have shown the importance of maternal education in reducing child mortality and disease in other countries around the world.

So now you understand why mothers are indispensable?

Source: University of Alberta

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