Background: Harmful maternal and neonatal health outcomes result from malaria in pregnancy, the prevention of which primarily relies on intermittent preventive treatment with sulfadoxine-pyrimethamine (IPTp-SP). WHO recommends IPTp-SP in sub-Saharan Africa, but implementation is highly heterogeneous and often sub-optimal in terms of the number of doses and their timing. In this study, we assessed the impact of this heterogeneity on malaria in pregnancy, mainly with respect to submicroscopic Plasmodium falciparum infections.
Methods: We used data from 273 Beninese women followed throughout pregnancy. Screening for P. falciparum infections, using both microscopy- and polymerase chain reaction (PCR) -based methods, was performed monthly, and information on IPTp-SP dose was collected. Gestational age was estimated by repeated ultrasound scans. Using a negative binomial model, we investigated the effect of IPTp-SP doses and timing, after 17 weeks of gestation, on the number of P. falciparum infections, focusing on submicroscopic infections detectable only by PCR.
Results: At least two IPTp-SP doses were taken by 77.3% of the women. The median gestational age at first IPTp-SP dose was 22 weeks. A late first IPTp-SP dose (>21.2 weeks) was marginally associated with an increased number of P. falciparum infections (adjusted incidence rate ratio [aIRR] =1.3; p=0.098). The number of IPTp-SP doses was not associated with the number of submicroscopic infections (aIRR=1.2, p=0.543).
Conclusion: A late first IPTp-SP dose fail to provide optimal protection against P. falciparum, especially submicroscopic infections. This highlights the need for a new antimalarial drug for IPTp that could be taken early in pregnancy.