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Ann Trop Med Parasitol. 1999 Dec;93 Suppl 1:S59-66.

Malaria in pregnancy: its relevance to safe-motherhood programmes.

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  • 1Department of Epidemiology and Public Health, London School of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene, U.K.


Severe anaemia in pregnancy is an important contributor to maternal and perinatal morbidity and mortality. In sub-Saharan Africa severe anaemia in pregnancy is very common, the main causes being iron and folate deficiency, malaria, hookworm infestation and advanced HIV infection. Though most of these causes are preventable, the overall prevalence of anaemia has not changed over many years. This is probably due to a mixture of reasons, including operational problems and inadequate interventions. In addition, a true effect on severe anaemia may have been missed if the only measure taken is of the overall prevalence of anaemia. One cause of anaemia that has been neglected by safe-motherhood programmes has been malaria in pregnancy. In endemic areas, malaria in pregnancy is usually asymptomatic and often associated with a negative peripheral-blood film. Hence the condition needs to be treated and prevented as a matter of routine in all women at risk of infection. A trial conducted in Kenya demonstrated that intermittent treatment with the antimalarial sulfadoxine-pyrimethamine (SP), given a couple of times during pregnancy when women attend for antenatal care, can reduce severe anaemia in primigravidae by 39%. The results of this study demonstrate the important contribution of malaria to severe anaemia in pregnancy in areas of endemic transmission. Intermittent treatment with SP in pregnancy has also been shown to be effective in improving birthweight. Though questions remain about the optimal way to deliver this intervention to different groups of women, we cannot afford to wait for all of the answers. The degree to which malaria contributes to severe anaemia in pregnancy is now clear. In Kenya intermittent SP is now policy for pregnant women from malarious areas. The challenge now is for this regimen to be successfully implemented as part of an integrated programme of anaemia control in pregnancy.

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