Important development

New studies show malaria treatments can be safely administered to pregnant women

A Congolese woman and her child with malaria in south Sudan. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

Several medical studies and an editorial in the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) affirm the possibility of safely treating pregnant women infected with malaria, NPR reports. The most effective treatment for malaria — artemisinin combination therapy, or ACT — has not been widely tested on expectant mothers due to safety concerns, but the effects of the disease on pregnant women and babies can be acute. Malaria, which killed around 500,000 people in 2015, is thought to be responsible for 20 percent of low birth weight babies in sub-Saharan Africa, leading to the deaths of 100,000 infants each year. And so, despite the lack of clinical affirmation, “[n]ot treating pregnant women with malaria is not an option, since this is a life-threatening disease,” said Dr. Joel Tarning, Head of Clinical Pharmacology at Mahidol Oxford Tropical Medicine Research Unit in Bangkok and author of the NEJM editorial.

Fortunately, recent research indicates that malaria treatments can be safely administered to expectant mothers. A study in The Lancent Infectious Diseases found that ACTs are effective and safe during the first trimester. A second study tested four anti-malaria drug combinations on infected pregnant women from Burkina Faso, Ghana, Malawi, and Zambia. The treatments cured between 95 and 99.2 percent of women, while incurring few side effects. Also significant is a study on preventative treatment, which administered one of the combination drugs — dihydroartemisinin-piperaquine — to pregnant women not infected with malaria. The drug was shown to prevent the disease without notable side effects. “I hope that these studies provide the needed evidence for countries to use ACTs in the treatment of pregnant women with malaria,” Tarning told NPR.

Read the full story at NPR.

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