Background: Control of malaria in pregnancy remains a public health challenge. Improvements in its correct diagnosis and the adequacy of protocols to evaluate anti-malarial drug efficacy in pregnancy, are essential to achieve this goal.
Methods: The presence of Plasmodium falciparum was assessed by real-time (RT) PCR in 284 blood samples from pregnant women with clinical complaints suggestive of malaria, attending the maternity clinic of a Mozambican rural hospital. Parasite recrudescences in 33 consecutive paired episodes during the same pregnancy were identified by msp1 and msp2 genotyping.
Results: Prevalence of parasitaemia by microscopy was 5.3% (15/284) and 23.2% (66/284) by RT-PCR. Sensitivity of microscopy, compared to RT-PCR detection, was 22.7%. Risk of maternal anaemia was higher in PCR-positive women than in PCR-negative women (odds ratio [OR] = 1.92, 95% confidence interval [CI] 1.09-3.36). Genotyping confirmed that recrudescence after malaria treatment occurred in 7 (21%) out of 33 pregnant women with consecutive episodes during the same pregnancy (time range between recrudescent episodes: 14 to 187 days).
Conclusion: More accurate and sensitive diagnostic indicators of malaria infection in pregnancy are needed to improve malaria control. Longer follow-up periods than the standard in vivo drug efficacy protocol should be used to assess anti-malarial drug efficacy in pregnancy.