The effect of placental malaria infection on perinatal mortality in rural Malawi

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  • 1 Division of Parasitic Diseases, National Center for Infectious Diseases, and International Health Program Office, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Atlanta, Georgia; Ministry of Health, and College of Medicine, University of Malawi, Blantyre, Malawi
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Perinatal deaths (fetal or infant deaths from the 28th week of pregnancy up to the seventh day after birth) occur as a result of adverse conditions during pregnancy, labor, and delivery, or in the first few days of life. Placental malaria infection is known to increase the risk of delivery of a low birth weight infant, thus, potentially increasing the risk of perinatal and infant mortality. To better understand the relationship among the adverse events in pregnancy, including placental malaria infection, adverse conditions in labor, and birth weight to perinatal mortality, we investigated the perinatal mortality among a cohort of infants born to rural Malawian women for whom placental malaria infection status and birth weight were documented. Among the 2,063 mother-singleton infant pairs, there were 111 perinatal deaths (53.8 perinatal deaths per 1,000 births). The risk of perinatal death increased as birth weight decreased. Risk factors identified for perinatal mortality among all infants excluding birth weight included abnormal delivery (cesarean section, breech, or vacuum extraction), a history of a late fetal or neonatal death in the most recent previous birth among multiparous women, reactive maternal syphilis serology, nulliparity, and low socioeconomic status. Placental malaria infection was not associated with increased perinatal mortality, but was associated with lower perinatal mortality among normal birth weight (≥ 2,500 g) infants (odds ratio = 0.35, 95% confidence interval = 0.14, 0.92). Interventions to address these risk factors could have a substantial impact on reducing perinatal mortality in this population.

Author Notes

Authors’ addresses: Jeanne M. McDermott, Mother Care, John Snow Inc., 1616 N. Fort Meyer Drive, 11th Floor, Arlington, VA 22209. Jack J. Wirima, University of Malawi School of Medicine and Ministry of Health, Blantyre, Malawi. Richard W. Steketee, Epidemiology Branch, Division of HIV/AIDS Prevention, National Center for HIV/AIDs, STD, and TB Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Mailstop E-45, 1600 Clifton Road, Atlanta, GA 30333. Joel G. Breman, Division of International Training and Research, Fogarty International Center, National Institutes of Health, Building 31, Room B2C 39, Bethesda, MD 20892-2220. David L. Heymann, Emerging and Other Communicable Diseases Programme, World Health Organization, 1211 Geneva 27, Switzerland.