Hypoxemia predicts death from severe falciparum malaria among children under 5 years of age in Nigeria: the need for pulse oximetry in case management

Afr Health Sci. 2014 Jun;14(2):397-407. doi: 10.4314/ahs.v14i2.16.


Background: Oxygen saturation is a good marker for disease severity in emergency care. However, studies have not considered its use in identifying individuals infected with Plasmodium falciparum at risk of deaths.

Objective: To investigate the prevalence and predictive value of hypoxaemia for deaths in under-5s with severe falciparum malaria infection.

Methods: Oxygen saturation was prospectively measured alongside other indicators of disease severity in 369 under-5s admitted to a tertiary hospital in Nigeria. Participants were children in whom falciparum malaria parasitaemia was confirmed with blood film microscopy in the presence of any of the World Health Organization-defined life-threatening features for malaria.

Results: Overall mortality rate was 8.1%. Of the 16 indicators of the disease severity assessed, hypoxaemia (OR=7.54; 95% CI=2.80, 20.29), co-morbidity with pneumonia (OR=19.27; 95% CI=2.87, 29.59), metabolic acidosis (OR=6.21; 95% CI=2.21, 17.47) and hypoglycaemia (OR=19.71; 95% CI=2.61, 25.47) were independent predictors of death. Cerebral malaria, male gender, wasting, hypokalaemia, hyponatriaemia, azotaemia and renal impairment were significantly associated with death in univariate analysis but not logistic regression model.

Conclusions: Hypoxaemia predicts deaths in Nigerian children with severe malaria, irrespective of other features. Efforts should always be made to measure oxygen saturation as part of the treatments for severe malaria in children.

Keywords: Hypoxaemia; Oxygen saturation; Severe malaria; Under-5 mortality.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Child, Preschool
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Female
  • Hospitals, Teaching
  • Humans
  • Hypoxia / diagnosis*
  • Hypoxia / etiology*
  • Hypoxia / mortality
  • Infant
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Malaria, Falciparum / complications
  • Malaria, Falciparum / diagnosis*
  • Malaria, Falciparum / mortality*
  • Malaria, Falciparum / parasitology
  • Male
  • Parasitemia / blood*
  • Parasitemia / complications
  • Parasitemia / mortality
  • Predictive Value of Tests
  • Prevalence
  • Prospective Studies
  • Risk Factors
  • Severity of Illness Index