Research Laboratory on Reproduction, Faculty of Medicine, and School for Public Health, Free University of Brussels (ULB), Centre Scientifique et Medical de l'ULB pour ses Activites de Cooperation (CEMUBAC), Brussels, Belgium
In a region of Africa (Nord-Kivu, Zaire) where malaria is endemic, circulating malaria parasites, malaria-associated placental lesions, and a low hemoglobin level (< 10 g/dl) were observed, either singly or in combination, in 73.1% of women (n = 461) delivering at the maternity hospital. These pathologic findings were associated with low birthweight in 18.1% of the newborns, whereas the prevalence of low birthweight was 6.4% among cases without these findings (P < 0.05). Parasitemia was observed in 17.4% of all mothers and was associated with a significant decrease in birthweight. Malaria-associated lesions were found in 52.5% of all placentas and were associated with a decrease in birthweight, head circumference, and ponderal index of the newborns. Such lesions were more frequently observed among primiparae (60.5%) than among multiparae (49.5%; P < 0.05). Lastly, a low hemoglobin level, found in 38.6% of the mothers, was associated with a decrease in birthweight, length, and head circumference. The differences in the physical effects associated with each of the pathologic conditions suggest that parasitemia, placental lesions, and anemia result in acute, subacute, and chronic impairment of fetal growth, respectively. Moreover, their deleterious effects may be cumulative, since the most dramatically affected physical patterns were found when the pathologic findings were associated in the same patient. Frequent antenatal monitoring of maternal hemoglobin and parasitemia, accompanied, when necessary, with curative treatments, may help to reduce the prevalence of intrauterine growth retardation and its procession of perinatal complications.