ORSTOM Center Huraz, Bobo-Dioulasso, Unit of Research in Genetic Epidemiology (INSERM, U155), USAID, Ouagadougou, Ministry of Health, Catholic University of Nijmegen, ORSTOM s/c OCEAC, Unit of Research on Mother and Child (INSERM, U149), Paris, Burkina Faso
To determine the effect of chloroquine chemoprophylaxis during pregnancy on birth weights, a randomized trial was carried out in 1987 and 1988 in Banfora, Burkina Faso (West Africa). Seven hundred forty-five randomly selected women treated with chloroquine sulfate were compared to with 719 controls who received no treatment. In spite of an unquestionable effect of chloroquine in preventing placental infection (4.1% infected placentas in the treated group versus 19.0% in the controls), the mean difference in birth weights between the two groups (6 g) was not significant. The difference in the proportion of low birth weight (LBW) newborn babies in two groups (16.3% versus 16.4%) was also not significant. However, there was a strong relationship between placental infection and birth weight (the mean birth weight difference between infected and uninfected placentas was 113 g, and the proportion of LBW babies was 26.0% in infected placentas versus 14.8% in uninfected placentas). The small difference in birth weights observed between the two groups may be due to the fact that the prevalence rate of placental infection is low and that prophylaxis is effective only on a portion of the subjects in the treated group. It may also indicate that malaria is only one of several risk factors responsible for LBW. The relatively small increase in birth weight, the expected poor acceptance of mass prophylaxis, and the spreading of chloroquine-resistant Plasmodium strains should be considered before extending malaria chemoprophylaxis to all pregnant women. It might be worth considering to limit prophylaxis to primigravidae.