Pregnant women have a higher risk of malaria compared to non-pregnant women. This review provides an update on knowledge acquired since 2000 on P. falciparum and P.vivax infections in pregnancy. Maternal risk factors for malaria in pregnancy (MiP) include low maternal age, low parity, and low gestational age. The main effects of MIP include maternal anaemia, low birth weight (LBW), preterm delivery and increased infant and maternal mortality.
P. falciparum infected erythrocytes sequester in the placenta by expressing surface antigens, mainly variant surface antigen (VAR2CSA), that bind to specific receptors, mainly chondroitin sulphate A. In stable transmission settings, the higher malaria risk in primigravidae can be explained by the non-recognition of these surface antigens by the immune system. Recently, placental sequestration has been described also for P.vivax infections. The mechanism of preterm delivery and intrauterine growth retardation is not completely understood, but fever (preterm delivery), anaemia, and high cytokines levels have been implicated.
Clinical suspicion of MiP should be confirmed by parasitological diagnosis. The sensitivity of microscopy, with placenta histology as the gold standard, is 60% and 45% for peripheral and placental falciparum infections in African women, respectively. Compared to microscopy, RDTs have a lower sensitivity though when the quality of microscopy is low RDTs may be more reliable. Insecticide treated nets (ITN) and intermittent preventive treatment in pregnancy (IPTp) are recommended for the prevention of MiP in stable transmission settings. ITNs have been shown to reduce malaria infection and adverse pregnancy outcomes by 28–47%. Although resistance is a concern, SP has been shown to be equivalent to MQ and AQ for IPTp. For the treatment of uncomplicated malaria during the first trimester, quinine plus clindamycin for 7 days is the first line treatment and artesunate plus clindamycin for 7 days is indicated if this treatment fails; in the 2nd and 3rd trimester first line treatment is an artemisinin-based combination therapy (ACT) known to be effective in the region or artesunate and clindamycin for 7 days or quinine and clindamycin. For severe malaria, in the second and third trimester parenteral artesunate is preferred over quinine. In the first trimester, both artesunate and quinine (parenteral) may be considered as options. Nevertheless, treatment should not be delayed and should be started immediately with the most readily available drug.