Influence of placental malaria infection on foetal outcome in the Gambia: twenty years after Ian Mcgregor

J Health Popul Nutr. 2002 Mar;20(1):4-11.


Malaria infection in pregnancy has serious health consequences among mothers and offspring. The influence of placental malaria infection on foetal outcome was studied in a Gambian rural setting where few pregnant women take antimalarial chemoprophylaxis. During July-December 1997, three hundred thirteen mother-newborn pairs (singletons only) were consecutively recruited into a study of the effects of placental malaria infection on the outcome of pregnancy. Placental blood and tissue were collected at delivery. Babies were clinically assessed until discharge. The overall prevalence of placental malaria infection was 51.1% by placental histology and 37.1% by blood smear. The primigravid women were more susceptible to placental malaria than the multigravidae (65.3% vs 44.7%, p=0.01). Placental malaria was significantly associated with pre-term deliveryand intrauterine growth retardation (p<0.01), and there was a four-fold risk of delivering low-birth-weight babies if mothers had parasitized placentae [OR=4.42, 95% confidence interval (CI) 2.10-9.27]. A reduction of mean birth-weight of babies by 320 g was associated with placental malaria infection (p<0.001). Similarly, a two-fold risk of stillbirth delivery (OR=2.22, 95% CI 1.04-4.72) was observed among the infected mothers. The findings showed that there was still an overall poor foetal outcome associated with placental malaria infection. The findings of this study confirm the findings of an earlier study by McGregor in the Gambia that the low birth-weight rate is significantly higher if the placenta is parasitized. In addition, this study observed that the high stillbirth and prematurity rates were associated with placental malaria infection. The findings of the present study suggest undertaking of effective malaria-control strategies during pregnancy, such as use of insecticide-impregnated bednets, intermittent and early treatment for malaria, and antimalarial chemoprophylaxis, in the Gambia.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Biopsy
  • Embryonic and Fetal Development / physiology*
  • Female
  • Fetal Death / parasitology
  • Gambia
  • Humans
  • Infant, Low Birth Weight / physiology
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Malaria / blood*
  • Malaria / epidemiology*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Obstetric Labor, Premature / parasitology
  • Placenta / parasitology*
  • Placenta / pathology*
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnancy Complications, Parasitic / blood*
  • Pregnancy Complications, Parasitic / epidemiology*
  • Rural Population
  • Time Factors