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Yale J Biol Med. 2008 Mar;81(1):1-7.

Impact of placental Plasmodium falciparum malaria on pregnancy and perinatal outcome in sub-Saharan Africa: part III: placental malaria, maternal health, and public health.

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Department of Medical Microbiology/Parasitology, Ebonyi State University, Nigeria.


Plasmodium falciparum infections of the placenta remain a major medical challenge among pregnant women in sub-Saharan Africa. A number of factors influence the prevalence of placental malaria in pregnant women, including maternal age, gravidity, use of prophylaxis, nutrition, host genetics, and level of anti-parasite immunity, as well as parasite genetics and transmission rates [1]. Maternal anemia has been shown to be one of the major complications of placental malaria in sub-Saharan Africa. The mechanisms by which malaria causes anemia are fairly well understood. The pathophysiology of malaria-associated anemia is multifactorial. The most likely mechanisms include (i) hemolysis or the direct destruction of parasitized red blood cells that occurs both intravascularly and by sequestration in the microcirculation, mainly in the spleen; (ii) specific/nonspecific immune responses, whereby red cell survival is shortened; (iii) nonspecific, defective, red cell production, which depresses erythropoiesis, inhibits reticulocyte release, and prematurely destructs red cells during maturation in the bone marrow; and (iv) hypersplenism associated with a reduction in all three blood cell series, that is, causing not only anemia but also thrombocytopenia and leucopenia [2,3]. The relationship between maternal anemia with obstetric factors, however, is not fully understood, and, thus, evaluating the link between malaria, obstetric disorders, and maternal death has been recommended [4]. There have been efforts to quantify the contribution of malaria to maternal morbidity and mortality with the expectation that this would provide the evidence necessary to improve the effectiveness of advocacy to incorporate malaria prevention strategies in Safe Motherhood Programs [5,6]. The effects of placental malaria on maternal health can better be understood when considered in relation with various maternal parameters, including maternal age, parity, peripheral malaria infection, anemia, and HIV infection.

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