Malaria in pregnancy and postpartum cause maternal mortality and adverse fetal outcomes. Efficacious and safe antimalarials are needed to treat and prevent such serious consequences. However, because of the lack of evidence on fetal safety, quinine, an old and less efficacious drug has long been recommended for pregnant women. Uncertainty about safety in relation to breastfeeding leads to withholding of efficacious treatments postpartum or cessation of breastfeeding. Areas covered: A search identified literature on humans in three databases (MEDLINE, Embase and Global health) using pregnancy or lactation, and the names of antimalarial drugs as search terms. Adverse reactions to the mother, fetus or breastfed infant were summarized together with efficacies. Expert opinion: Artemisinins are more efficacious and well-tolerated than quinine in pregnancy. Furthermore, the risks of miscarriage, stillbirth or congenital abnormality were not higher in pregnancies exposed to artemisinin derivatives for treatment of malaria than in pregnancies exposed to quinine or in the comparable background population unexposed to any antimalarials, and this was true for treatment in any trimester. Assessment of safety and efficacy of antimalarials including dose optimization for pregnant women is incomplete. Resistance to sulfadoxine-pyrimethamine in Plasmodium falciparum and long unprotected intervals between intermittent treatment doses begs reconsideration of current preventative recommendations in pregnancy. Data remain limited on antimalarials during breastfeeding; while most first-line drugs appear safe, further research is needed.
Keywords: Malaria; antimalarial drugs; artemisinin; human studies; pregnancy; quinine.