Burden of malaria in pregnancy among adolescent girls compared to adult women in 5 sub-Saharan African countries: A secondary individual participant data meta-analysis of 2 clinical trials

PLoS Med. 2022 Sep 2;19(9):e1004084. doi: 10.1371/journal.pmed.1004084. eCollection 2022 Sep.


Background: Malaria is among the top causes of death in adolescent girls (10 to 19 years) globally. Adolescent motherhood is associated with increased risk of adverse maternal and neonatal outcomes. The interaction of malaria, adolescence, and pregnancy is especially relevant in malaria endemic areas, where rates of adolescent pregnancy are high. However, data on burden of malaria among adolescent girls are limited. This study aimed at investigating whether adolescent girls were at a greater risk of experiencing malaria-related outcomes in pregnancy-parasitaemia and clinical disease-than adult women.

Methods and findings: An individual secondary participant-level meta-analysis was conducted using data from 5,804 pregnant women participating in 2 malaria prevention clinical trials in Benin, Gabon, Kenya, Mozambique, and Tanzania between 2009 and 2014. Of the sample, 1,201 participants were adolescent girls with a mean age of 17.5 years (standard deviation (SD) 1.3) and 886 (73.8%) of them primigravidae. Among the 4,603 adult women with mean age of 27.0 years (SD 5.4), 595 (12.9%) were primigravidae. Mean gestational age at enrolment was 20.2 weeks (SD 5.2) and 1,069 (18.4%) participants were HIV-infected. Women were followed monthly until the postpartum visit (1 month to 6 weeks after delivery). This study considered outcomes including clinical episodes during pregnancy, peripheral parasitaemia at delivery, and placental malaria. A 2-stage meta-analysis approach was followed by pooling single multivariable regression results into standard DerSimonian-Laird random-effects models. Adolescent girls were more likely than adult women to present with clinical malaria during pregnancy (incidence risk ratio (IRR) 1.70, 95% confidence interval (CI) 1.20; 2.39, p-value = 0.003, I2 = 0.0%, N = 4,092), peripheral parasitaemia at delivery (odds ratio (OR) 2.28, 95% CI 1.46; 3.55, p-value < 0.001, I2 = 0.0%, N = 3,977), and placental infection (OR 1.97, 95% CI 1.31; 2.98, p-value = 0.001, I2 = 1.4%, N = 4,797). Similar associations were observed among the subgroup of HIV-uninfected participants: IRR 1.72 (95% CI 1.22; 2.45, p-value = 0.002, I2 = 0.0%, N = 3,531) for clinical malaria episodes, OR 2.39 (95% CI 1.49; 3.86, p-value < 0.001, I2 = 0.0%, N = 3,053) for peripheral parasitaemia, and OR 1.88 (95% CI 1.06 to 3.33, p-value = 0.03, I2 = 34.9%, N = 3,847) for placental malaria. Among HIV-infected subgroups statistically significant associations were not observed. Similar associations were found in the subgroup analysis by gravidity. The small sample size and outcome prevalence in specific countries limited the inclusion of some countries in the meta-analysis. Furthermore, peripheral parasitaemia and placental malaria presented a considerable level of missing data-12.6% and 18.2% of participants had missing data on those outcomes, respectively. Given the original scope of the clinical trials, asymptomatic malaria infection was only assessed at the end of pregnancy through peripheral and placental parasitaemia.

Conclusions: In this study, we observed that adolescent girls in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) are more prone to experience clinical malaria episodes during pregnancy and have peripheral malaria and placental infection at delivery than adult women. Moreover, to the best of our knowledge, for the first time this study disaggregates figures and stratifies analyses by HIV infection. Similar associations were found for both HIV-infected and uninfected women, although those for HIV-infected participants were not statistically significant. Our finding suggests that adolescent girls may benefit from targeted malaria prevention strategies even before they become pregnant.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Antimalarials* / therapeutic use
  • Female
  • HIV Infections* / complications
  • HIV Infections* / epidemiology
  • Humans
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Kenya
  • Malaria* / prevention & control
  • Parasitemia / drug therapy
  • Parasitemia / epidemiology
  • Placenta
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnancy Complications, Infectious* / drug therapy
  • Pregnancy Complications, Parasitic* / prevention & control


  • Antimalarials

Grants and funding

The authors received no specific funding for this work. The Spanish Ministry of Education and Vocational Training partially covered the salary of CPD through a predoctoral scholarship. ISGlobal is supported by the Spanish Ministry of Science and Innovation through the “Centro de Excelencia Severo Ochoa 2019-2023” Program [CEX2018-000806-S]; and the Generalitat de Catalunya through the CERCA Program. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.