Image: Burnet Institute Deputy Program Director, Maternal and Child Health, Associate Professor Freya Fowkes
In a landmark study published in The Lancet Global Health, Burnet researchers have estimated that one to two hundred thousand stillbirths are caused annually by malaria in sub-Saharan Africa, equivalent to 10 to 20 percent of the one million stillbirths that occur in the region.
Globally, 2.6 million stillbirths occur each year but it is unclear how many of these are caused by malaria in pregnancy.
Malaria in pregnancy is caused by infection with the Plasmodium parasite which can have detrimental outcomes to the mother and their babies.
The study found that infection with two different species of malaria (Falciparum and vivax) increased the risk of stillbirth, but to a lesser extent if malaria is treated prior to delivery.
Interestingly the authors found that in areas transitioning from high to moderate malaria transmission, the risk of malaria causing stillbirth increased.
“These findings are particularly relevant as malaria endemicity is declining globally and have major implications for policies and resource allocation for stillbirth prevention,” Burnet Institute Deputy Program Director, Maternal and Child Health, Associate Professor Freya Fowkes, senior author of the study, said.
“These findings advocate for context-appropriate, evidence-based interventions for malaria in pregnancy to significantly reduce the burden of stillbirth in malaria-endemic areas,” said PhD student Kerryn Moore, lead author of the study.
This study was done in collaboration with researchers from The University of Melbourne and the Shoklo Malaria Research Unit and was funded by the Australian Commonwealth Government; National Health and Medical Research Council; Australian Research Council.