Malaria has a negative effect on pregnancy outcome, causing low birth weight, premature birth and stillbirths, particularly in areas with high malaria transmission. In Rwanda, malaria transmission intensity ranges from high to nil, probably associated with variable altitudes. Overall, the incidence decreased over the last six years (2002-2007). Therefore, the impact of malaria on birth outcomes is also expected to vary over time and space.
Obstetric indicators (birth weight and pregnancy outcome) and malaria incidence were compared and analyzed to their association over time (2002-2007) and space. Birth data from 12,526 deliveries were collected from maternity registers of 11 different primary health centers located in different malaria endemic areas. Malaria data for the same communities were collected from the National Malaria Control Programme. Associations were sought with mixed effects models and logistic regression.
In all health centres, a significant increase of birth weight over the years was observed (p < 0.001) with a significant seasonal fluctuation. Malaria incidence had no significant effect on birth weight. There was a slight but significant decreasing effect of malaria incidence on the occurrence of premature delivery (p-value 0.045) and still birth (p-value 0.009). Altitude showed a slight but significant negative correlation with birth weight. Overall, a decrease over the years of premature delivery (p = 0.010) and still birth (p = 0.036) was observed.
In Rwanda, birth weight and pregnancy outcome are not directly influenced by malaria, which is in contrast to many other studied areas. Although malaria incidence overall has declined and mean birth weight increased over the studied period, no direct association was found between the two. Socio-economic factors and improved nutrition could be responsible for birth weight changes in recent years.