Background: Malaria contributes to maternal illness and anaemia in pregnancy, especially in first-time mothers, and can harm the mother and the baby. Drugs given routinely to prevent or mitigate the effects of malaria during pregnancy are often recommended.
Objectives: To assess drugs given to prevent malaria infection and its consequences in pregnant women living in malarial areas. This includes prophylaxis and intermittent preventive treatment (IPT).
Search strategy: We searched the Cochrane Infectious Diseases Group Specialized Register (March 2006), CENTRAL (The Cochrane Library 2006, Issue 1), MEDLINE (1966 to March 2006), EMBASE (1974 to March 2006), LILACS (1982 to March 2006), and reference lists. We also contacted researchers working in the field.
Selection criteria: Randomized and quasi-randomized controlled trials comparing antimalarial drugs given regularly with no antimalarial drugs for preventing malaria in pregnant women living in malaria-endemic areas.
Data collection and analysis: Both authors extracted data and assessed methodological quality. Dichotomous variables were combined using relative risks (RR) and weighted mean differences (WMD) for mean values, both with 95% confidence intervals (CI).
Main results: Sixteen trials (12,638 participants) met the inclusion criteria; two used adequate methods to conceal allocation. Antimalarials reduced antenatal parasitaemia when given to all pregnant women (RR 0.53, 95% CI 0.33 to 0.86; 328 participants, 2 trials), placental malaria (RR 0.34, 95% CI 0.26 to 0.45; 1236 participants, 3 trials), but no effect was detected with perinatal deaths (2890 participants, 4 trials). In women in their first or second pregnancy, antimalarial drugs reduced severe antenatal anaemia (RR 0.62, 95% CI 0.50 to 0.78; 2809 participants, 1 prophylaxis and 2 IPT trials), antenatal parasitaemia (RR 0.27, 95% CI 0.17 to 0.44, random-effects model; 2906 participants, 6 trials), and perinatal deaths (RR 0.73, 95% CI 0.53 to 0.99; 1986 participants, 2 prophylaxis and 1 IPT trial; mean birthweight was higher (WMD 126.70 g, 95% CI 88.64 to 164.75 g; 2648 participants, 8 trials), and low birthweight less frequent (RR 0.57, 95% CI 0.46 to 0.72; 2350 participants, 6 trials). Proguanil performed better than chloroquine in one trial of women of all parities in relation to maternal fever episodes. Sulfadoxine-pyrimethamine performed better than chloroquine in two trials of low-parity women.
Authors' conclusions: Chemoprophylaxis or IPT reduces antenatal parasite prevalence and placental malaria when given to women in all parity groups. They also have positive effects on birthweight and possibly on perinatal death in low-parity women.