Pregnant women have a higher risk of malaria compared to non-pregnant women. This review provides an update on knowledge acquired in the past decade on P. falciparum and P.vivax infections in pregnancy. Maternal risk factors for malaria in pregnancy (MiP) include low maternal age, low gravidity, and low gestational age. The effects of MIP include maternal anaemia, low birth weight (LBW), preterm delivery and increased infant mortality.
P. falciparum infected erythrocytes sequester in the placenta by expressing surface antigens, mainly variant surface antigen (VAR2CSA), that bind to specific receptors, mainly chondroitin sulphate A. In stable transmission settings, the higher malaria risk in primigravidae can be explained by the non recognition of these surface antigens by the immune system. Recently, placental sequestration has been described also for P.vivax infections. The mechanism of preterm delivery and intrauterine growth retardation is not completely understood, but fever (preterm delivery), anaemia, and high cytokines levels have been implicated.
Clinical suspicion of MiP should be confirmed by parasitological diagnosis. The sensitivity of microscopy, with placenta histology as the gold standard, is 60% and 45% for peripheral and placental falciparum infections, respectively. Compared to microscopy, RDTs have a lower sensitivity.
Insecticide treated nets (ITN) and intermittent preventive treatment in pregnancy (IPTp) are recommended for the prevention of MiP in stable transmission settings. ITNs have been shown to reduce malaria infection and adverse pregnancy outcomes by 28-47%. Although resistance is a concern, SP has been shown to be equivalent to MQ and AQ for IPTp. For the treatment of uncomplicated malaria, a combination of quinine + clyndamycin is recommended in all trimesters, while artesunate+ clindamycin or any other ACT known to be effective in the region are recommended in the second and third trimesters. For severe malaria, quinine (parenteral) is recommended in the first trimester while artesunate (parenteral) is recommended in the second and third trimesters.