Placental malaria causes low birth weight and neonatal mortality in malaria-endemic areas. The diagnosis of placental malaria is important for program evaluation and clinical care, but is compromised by the suboptimal performance of current diagnostics. Using placental and peripheral blood specimens collected from delivering women in Malawi, we compared estimation of the operating characteristics of microscopy, rapid diagnostic test (RDT), polymerase chain reaction, and histopathology using both a traditional contingency table and a latent class analysis (LCA) approach. The prevalence of placental malaria by histopathology was 13.8%; concordance between tests was generally poor. Relative to histopathology, RDT sensitivity was 79.5% in peripheral and 66.2% in placental blood; using LCA, RDT sensitivities increased to 93.7% and 80.2%, respectively. Our results, if replicated in other cohorts, indicate that RDT testing of peripheral or placental blood may be suitable approaches to detect placental malaria for surveillance programs, including areas where intermittent preventive therapy in pregnancy is not used.
© The American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene.