Malaria drug prevents STIs, premature babies —Study

It is a common practice to ask pregnant women to take sulfadoxine-pyrimethamine, a malaria drug, to prevent malaria. Now, experts say that this drug offers protection that extends beyond malaria prevention to include curable sexually transmitted/reproductive tract infections.

In a new study, researchers at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine said the medicine can also protect them against other infections such as gonorrhoea, Chlamydia, trichomoniasis, and bacterial vaginosis.

This study, published in Clinical Infectious Diseases, involved 1,086 pregnant women who attend antenatal care in rural Zambia. It investigated the protective effect different doses of the malaria medicine on pregnancy outcomes.

World Health Organisation recommends providing intermittent preventive treatment (IPTp) using sulphadoxine-pyrimethamine (SP) to pregnant women living in malaria-endemic areas as part of every scheduled antenatal care visit, from the second trimester until delivery, to reduce adverse birth outcomes caused by malaria infection such as preterm birth delivery, low birth weight and still birth.

According to the study,  women who had two or more doses of IPTp-SP compared to zero to one dose had their risk of getting malaria reduced by 76 per cent while their risk of getting gonorrhoea or chlamydia was reduced by 94 per cent.

In addition, they found that women who received two or more IPTp-SP doses compared to zero to one dose had their risk of experiencing stillbirth, low birth weight, preterm delivery or intrauterine growth retardation cut by 45 per cent.

Lead author of this new study, Assistant Professor Matthew Chico, said the findings show that IPTp-SP offers unrecognised potential that extends beyond its life-saving protection against malaria.

According to him, “Our study helps to explain why IPTp-SP continues to protect pregnant women against adverse birth outcomes in areas where malaria transmission is extremely low.”

The authors hope that these results will serve as a catalyst for scaling-up coverage of preventive treatment. Currently only 24 per cent of pregnant women in sub-Saharan Africa receive two SP doses, well below national and international targets.

Secretary General, Society for Obstetrics and Gynaecology of Nigeria (SOGON), Dr Chris Agboghoroma, explained that the protective effect may be linked to the antibacterial effect of components of sulfadoxine-pyrimethamine, the malaria drug.

Dr Agboghoroma, who remarked that in Nigeria IPTp-SP is given to protect from malaria in pregnancy, stated that some STIs are not compatible to pregnancy.

Agboghoroma, a consultant obstetrics and gynaecologist, National Hospital, Abuja said sexually transmitted and reproductive tract infections are linked to devastating birth consequences for pregnant women such as miscarriage, stillbirth and premature and low birth weight.

“For instance, syphilis can really be a problem in pregnancy; it can lead to miscarriage, still birth and or the baby may be born with severe neurological problems. That is why mothers are screened for these infections and treated to ensure that it does not have untold consequences on their unborn baby.”