Prevalence of clinical malaria and household characteristics of patients in tribal districts of Pakistan

PLoS Negl Trop Dis. 2021 May 3;15(5):e0009371. doi: 10.1371/journal.pntd.0009371. eCollection 2021 May.


Background: Malaria, disproportionately affects poor people more than any other disease of public health concern in developing countries. In resource-constrained environments, monitoring the occurrence of malaria is essential for the success of national malaria control programs. Militancy and military conflicts have been a major challenge in monitoring the incidence and controlling malaria and other emerging infectious diseases. The conflicts and instability in Afghanistan have resulted in the migration of refugees into the war-torn tribal districts of Pakistan's Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK) province and the possible introduction of many contagious epidemics. Although malaria is very common in all tribal districts, molecular, clinical and epidemiological data are scarce in these high-burden districts. Therefore, for the proper surveillance, detection, and control of malaria, obtaining and analyzing reliable data in these districts is essential.

Methodology/principal findings: All 1,127 malaria-suspected patients were sampled within the transmission season in the tribal districts of KPK province between March 2016 to December 2018. After a detailed demographic and clinical investigation of malaria-suspected patients, the data were recorded. The data of the control group was collected simultaneously at the same site. They were considered as uncomplicated cases for statistical analyses. Blood samples were collected from malaria-suspected patients for the detection of Plasmodium species using microscopy and nested PCR (nPCR). Microscopy and nPCR examination detected 78% (n = 882) and 38% (n = 429) Plasmodium-positive patients, respectively. Among1,127 of 429nPCR detected cases with both species of malaria, the frequency of complications was as follows: anemia (n = 71; 16.5%), decompensated shock (n = 40; 9%), hyperpyrexia (n = 117; 27%), hyperparasitaemia (n = 49; 11%) hypoglycemia (n = 45; 10.5%), jaundice (n = 54; 13%), multiple convulsions (n = 37; 9%), and petechia (n = 16; 4%). We observed that 37% (n = 157 out of 429) of those patients infected by both Plasmodium species were children between the ages of 1 and 15 years old. The results revealed that Bajaur (24%), Kurram (20%), and Khyber (18%) districtshada higher proportion of P. vivax than P. falciparum cases. Most of the malaria cases were males (74%). Patients infected by both Plasmodium species tended to less commonly have received formal education and ownership of wealth indicators (e.g., fridge, TV set) was lower.

Conclusions/significance: Malaria in tribal districts of the KPK province largely affects young males. P. vivax is a major contributor to the spread of malaria in the area, including severe malaria. We observed a high prevalence of P. vivax in the Bajaur district. Children were the susceptible population to malaria infections whereas they were the least expected to use satisfactory prevention strategies. A higher level of education, a possession of TV sets, the use of bed nets, the use of repellent fluids, and fridges were all associated with protection from malaria. An increased investment in socio-economic development, a strong health infrastructure, and malaria education are key interventions to reduce malaria in the tribal districts.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Armed Conflicts / statistics & numerical data
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Chronic Disease Indicators
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Malaria, Falciparum / epidemiology*
  • Malaria, Vivax / epidemiology*
  • Male
  • Pakistan / epidemiology
  • Plasmodium falciparum / genetics
  • Plasmodium falciparum / isolation & purification*
  • Plasmodium vivax / genetics
  • Plasmodium vivax / isolation & purification*
  • Polymerase Chain Reaction
  • Refugees / statistics & numerical data
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Socioeconomic Factors
  • Young Adult

Grant support

This work was supported by the the Deanship of Scientific Research (DSR) at King Abdulaziz University, Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, grant no. (FP-2-42) to EIA. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.