Ferric carboxymaltose versus standard-of-care oral iron to treat second-trimester anaemia in Malawian pregnant women: a randomised controlled trial

Lancet. 2023 May 13;401(10388):1595-1609. doi: 10.1016/S0140-6736(23)00278-7. Epub 2023 Apr 21.


Background: Anaemia affects 46% of pregnancies in Africa; oral iron is recommended by WHO but uptake and adherence are suboptimal. We tested a single dose of a modern intravenous iron formulation, ferric carboxymaltose, for anaemia treatment in Malawian pregnant women.

Methods: In this open-label, individually randomised controlled trial, we enrolled women with a singleton pregnancy of 13-26 weeks' gestation in primary care and outpatient settings across two regions in southern Malawi. Women were eligible if they had capillary haemoglobin of less than 10·0 g/dL and negative malaria rapid diagnostic test. Participants were randomised by sealed envelope 1:1. Assessors for efficacy outcomes (laboratory parameters and birthweight) were masked to intervention; participants and study nurses were not masked. Participants were given ferric carboxymaltose up to 1000 mg (given once at enrolment in an outpatient primary care setting), or standard of care (60 mg elemental iron twice daily for 90 days), along with intermittent preventive malaria treatment. The primary maternal outcome was anaemia at 36 weeks' gestation. The primary neonatal outcome was birthweight. Analyses were performed in the intention-to-treat population for mothers and liveborn neonates, according to their randomisation group. Safety outcomes included incidence of adverse events during infusion and all adverse events from randomisation to 4 weeks' post partum. The trial is registered with ANZCTR, ACTRN12618001268235. The trial has completed follow-up.

Findings: Between Nov 12, 2018, and March 2, 2021, 21 258 women were screened, and 862 randomly assigned to ferric carboxymaltose (n=430) or standard of care (n=432). Ferric carboxymaltose did not reduce anaemia prevalence at 36 weeks' gestation compared with standard of care (179 [52%] of 341 in the ferric carboxymaltose group vs 189 [57%] of 333 in the standard of care group; prevalence ratio [PR] 0·92, 95% CI 0·81 to 1·06; p=0·27). Anaemia prevalence was numerically lower in mothers randomly assigned to ferric carboxymaltose compared with standard of care at all timepoints, although significance was only observed at 4 weeks' post-treatment (PR 0·91 [0·85 to 0·97]). Birthweight did not differ between groups (mean difference -3·1 g [-75·0 to 68·9, p=0·93). There were no infusion-related serious adverse events or differences in adverse events by any organ class (including malaria; ≥1 adverse event: ferric carboxymaltose 183 [43%] of 430 vs standard of care 170 [39%] of 432; risk ratio 1·08 [0·92 to 1·27]; p=0·34).

Interpretation: In this malaria-endemic sub-Saharan African setting, treatment of anaemic pregnant women with ferric carboxymaltose was safe but did not reduce anaemia prevalence at 36 weeks' gestation or increase birthweight.

Funding: Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (INV-010612).

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Anemia* / drug therapy
  • Anemia, Iron-Deficiency* / drug therapy
  • Birth Weight
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Iron / therapeutic use
  • Malaria* / drug therapy
  • Malaria* / prevention & control
  • Malawi / epidemiology
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnancy Trimester, Second
  • Pregnant Women


  • Iron
  • ferric carboxymaltose