The intermittent preventive treatment of malaria in pregnancy (IPTp) with sulphadoxine-pyrimethamine (SP) has been a key component of the focused antenatal care package for nearly a decade, reducing the burden of low birthweight attributable to malaria in sub-Saharan Africa. However, SP has lost parasite sensitivity in many sub-Saharan locations during the same period, rendering its beneficial effect in IPTp debatable. Malaria transmission has also declined in some epidemiological settings. There is no evidence to suggest, however, that the risk of malaria in pregnancy without preventive measures has declined in the same locations. Thus, the urgency to identify efficacious drugs and/or new strategies to prevent malaria in pregnancy remains as great as ever. We summarise the results of recently published SP-IPTp studies from areas of high drug resistance and/or low malaria transmission. We also present the evidence for mefloquine and azithromycin-based combinations (ABCs), two leading drug options to replace SP in IPTp. We discuss optimal dosing for ABCs and their likely protection against several sexually transmitted and reproductive tract infections. We also summarise data from a diagnosis-based alternative to IPTp known as the intermittent screening and treatment (IST) for malaria. Clinical and operational research is urgently needed to compare birth outcomes achieved by IPTp with ABCs vs. IST using an efficacious antimalarial therapy.
© 2011 Blackwell Publishing Ltd.