Background: The World Health Organization recommends insecticidal bednets and intermittent preventive treatment to reduce malaria in pregnancy. Longitudinal data of malaria prevalence and pregnancy outcomes are valuable in gauging the impact of these antimalarial interventions.
Methodology/principal findings: We recruited 8,131 women delivering in a single Malawian hospital over 9 years. We recorded demographic data, antenatal prescription of intermittent preventive therapy during pregnancy with sulfadoxine-pyrimethamine and bed net use, and examined finger-prick blood for malaria parasites and hemoglobin concentration. In 4,712 women, we examined placental blood for malaria parasites and recorded the infant's birth weight. Peripheral and placental parasitemia prevalence declined from 23.5% to 5.0% and from 25.2% to 6.8% respectively. Smaller declines in prevalence of low birth weight and anemia were observed. Coverage of intermittent preventive treatment and bednets increased. Number of sulfadoxine-pyrimethamine doses received correlated inversely with placental parasitemia (Odds Ratio (95% CI): 0.79 (0.68, 0.91)), maternal anemia (0.81, (0.73, 0.90)) and low birth weight from 1997-2001 (0.63 (0.53, 0.75)), but not from 2002-2006. Bednet use protected from peripheral parasitemia (0.47, (0.37, 0.60)) and placental parasitemia (0.41, (0.31, 0.54)) and low birth weight (0.75 (0.59, 0.95)) but not anemia throughout the study. Compared to women without nets who did not receive 2-dose sulfadoxine-pyrimethamine, women using nets and receiving 2-dose sulfadoxine-pyrimethamine were less likely to have parasitemia or low birth weight babies. Women receiving 2-dose sulfadoxine-pyrimethamine alone had little evidence of protection whereas bednets alone gave intermediate protection.
Conclusions/significance: Increased bednet coverage explains changes in parasitemia and birth weight among pregnant women better than sulfadoxine-pyrimethamine use. High bed net coverage, and sulfadoxine-pyrimethamine resistance, may be contributing to its apparent loss of effectiveness.