The Human Impact

Researchers hope to reduce sub-Saharan Africa newborn deaths

May 15, 2012

Clinical trials are underway to test a new treatment for pregnant women, which could tackle some of the leading preventable causes of death for babies in sub-Saharan Africa, researchers at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) have said.

A large number of pregnant women in sub-Saharan Africa are infected with both malaria and sexually transmitted–reproductive tract infections (STIs – RTIs), according to a new study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Each year an estimated 25 million women in sub-Saharan Africa  are at high risk of malaria infection during pregnancy, the study said. Malarial infection heightens the risk of miscarriage, still births, or premature birth and death.

There are 880,000 stillbirths and 1.2 million newborn deaths each year in sub-Saharan Africa, many of which are linked to maternal infections in general , according to the study.

Almost four of every 10 women being treated in a health clinic in the region are infected with malaria, it said. Many women are also infected with such STIs and RTIs as syphilis, gonorrhoea, chlamydia, trichomononiasis and bacterial vaginosis, according to the report.

Researchers from LSHTM are working as part of an international group conducting clinical trials of combined anti-malarial and antibiotic treatment that could prevent and treat malaria and STIs-RTIs in pregnancy at the same time.

“We are now conducting trials of azithromycin-based combination treatment to give all pregnant women preventative medication that will clear placental malaria infection, protect against re-infection in between antenatal visits, and cure syphilis, gonorrhoea, chlamydia and, to a lesser extent, trichomononiasis, the most common STI in the world,” said lead author Matthew Chico, an epidemiologist at LSHTM.

“If given in early pregnancy, combined treatment may also reduce bacterial vaginosis, which affects half of all pregnant women in the region.”

Malaria and STIs-RTIs also contribute to low birth-weight, the leading cause of deaths of newborn babies, it said.

Researchers are hopeful that combined treatment could also overcome the problem of widespread anti-malarial drug resistance.

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