Shoklo Malaria Research study shows effect of malaria on birth weight

A study conducted by researchers at the Shoklo Malaria Research Unit on the border of Myanmar and Thailand has shown that malaria infection may lead to low birth weight.

The study, done in conjunction with the Wellcome Trust, Mahidol University and the Oxford University Tropical Medical Research Program, used ultrasound scans to provide direct evidence of the effect of malaria on fetal growth in pregnancies for the first time.

"By using antenatal ultrasound screening, we have provided clear evidence that malaria infection affects the growth of a child in the womb, even when the infection is caught early and treated," Marcus Rijken, the first author of the study, said. "This can increase the risk of miscarriage and affect the child's health in later life."

The scans revealed that the average diameter of a fetus's head was significantly smaller when malaria infection had occurred during the first half of pregnancy. The mid-pregnancy ultrasound found the heads of the fetus' were two percent smaller when compared with pregnancies not affected by malaria. The researchers said that head size is one of the most appropriate indicators of growth restriction.

The study also suggested that early detection and thorough treatment of a malaria episode during pregnancy may allow for growth to recover later on during the pregnancy.

"Strategies to prevent malaria in pregnancy have focused on the second half of pregnancy, when most of the fetal weight gain takes place, but our works suggests that we need to broaden our efforts to focus on the first trimester, too," Rijken said. "We need to make sure that pregnant woman are educated about the risks of malaria in pregnancy and where possible in areas of high risk, offer preventative medication from early pregnancy onwards."