Developing effective strategies for malaria prevention programs for pregnant African women

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  • 1 Division of HIV/AIDS, National Center for Prevention Services, and Office of the Associate Director for International Health, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Atlanta, Georgia; Ministry of Health and College of Medicine, University of Malawi, Blantyre, Malawi
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The control of malaria in pregnant African women, one of several child survival strategies applied through antenatal care, has been particularly challenging. Prevention and control recommendations for typical areas of high Plasmodium falciparum transmission have promoted the use of antimalarial chemoprophylaxis to prevent placental infection. Persistently low program coverage coupled with diminishing intervention effectiveness have forced a re-evaluation of the relative importance of malaria in pregnancy. The Mangochi Malaria Research Project (MMRP), a prospective evaluation of malaria prevention in pregnant women in rural Malawi conducted during 1987–1990, contributed to establishing new criteria for policy and program development for malaria prevention in pregnancy. The principle findings of the MMRP include: 1) populations at risk of the adverse consequences of malaria in pregnancy include women with low parity, women infected with human immunodeficiency virus, pregnancy during the high malaria transmission season, and the use of a malaria drug that is suboptimally efficacious; 2) the estimated maximum benefits of an antimalarial intervention that clears placental and umbilical cord parasitemia are a 5–12% reduction of low birth weight (LBW), an approximately 35% reduction in the risk of LBW for risks that are actually preventable once a woman has become pregnant (e.g., risks such as infectious disease or poor nutrition during gestation), and a 3–5% reduction in the rate of infant mortality; 3) the intervention must be capable of rendering the woman malaria parasite free, including clearance of parasites from the placental vascular space and umbilical cord blood; 4) other diseases adversely affect pregnancy outcome and, while the control of malaria in pregnancy may not warrant independent programming, if coupled with prevention programs to provide a range of antenatal services, the incremental costs of malaria control may prove to be highly cost-effective; and 5) the choice of a regimen must balance intervention efficacy with safety, availability, affordability, and simplicity of delivery, and several antimalarials may meet these criteria. The Malawi Ministry of Health has modified its malaria prevention in pregnancy recommendations and now faces the challenge of effective programming to improve child survival.

Author Notes

Authors’ addresses: Richard W. Steketee, 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. Jack J. Wirima, Ministry of Health, and College of Medicine, University of Malawi, Blantyre, Malawi. Carlos C. Campbell, Arizona Prevention Center, Arizona Health Sciences Center, 1501 N. Campbell Avenue, Tucson, AZ 85724.