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Assessment of the consistency of national-level policies and guidelines for malaria in pregnancy in five African countries
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    Background

    At least 39 sub-Saharan African countries have policies on preventing malaria in pregnancy (MIP), including use of long-lasting insecticidal nets (LLINs), intermittent preventive treatment with sulphadoxine-pyrimethamine (IPTp-SP) and case management. However, coverage of LLINs and IPTp-SP remains below international targets in most countries. One factor contributing to low coverage may be that MIP policies typically are developed by national malaria control programmes (NMCPs), but are implemented through national reproductive health (RH) programmes.

    Methods

    National-level MIP policies, guidelines, and training documents from NMCPs and RH programmes in Kenya, Mali, Mozambique, mainland Tanzania and Uganda were reviewed to assess whether they reflected WHO guidelines for prevention and treatment of MIP, and how consistent MIP content was across documents from the same country. Documents were compared for adherence to WHO guidance concerning IPTp-SP timing and dose, directly observed therapy, promotion and distribution of LLINs, linkages to HIV programmes and MIP case management.

    Results

    The five countries reviewed had national documents promoting IPTp-SP, LLINs and MIP case management. WHO guidance from 2004 frequently was not reflected: four countries recommended the first dose of IPTp-SP at 20 weeks or later (instead of 16 weeks), and three countries restricted the first and second IPTp-SP doses to specific gestational weeks. Documents from four countries provided conflicting guidance on MIP prevention for HIV-positive women, and none provided complete guidance on management of uncomplicated and severe malaria during pregnancy. In all countries, inconsistencies between NMCPs and RH programmes on the timing or dose of IPTp-SP were documented, as was the mechanism for providing LLINs. Inconsistencies also were found in training documents from NMCPs and RH programmes in a given country. Outdated, inconsistent guidelines have the potential to cause confusion and lead to incorrect practices among health workers who implement MIP programmes, contributing to low coverage of IPTp-SP and LLINs.

    Conclusions

    MIP policies, guidelines and training materials are outdated and/or inconsistent in the countries assessed. Updating and ensuring consistency among national MIP documents is needed, along with re-orientation and supervision of health workers to accelerate implementation of the 2012 WHO Global Malaria Programme policy recommendations for IPTp-SP.