Anemia: another place to focus on integration within antenatal care

Anemia in pregnancy is responsible not only for threats to a woman’s health, but ultimately the survival of the child. Hotez and Molyneux in a PLoS Neglected Tropical Diseases editorial explain that …

“… most of the 7.5 million pregnant women infected with hookworm likely live in areas of sub-Saharan Africa that place them at risk for malaria. At the same time, malaria control and NTD control have each been shown to reduce anemia both in children and in pregnant women. Therefore, combining malaria and NTD control practices in a unified anemia framework affords one of the best opportunities to reduce the huge burden of morbidity and mortality that results from anemia in sub-Saharan Africa.”

detect-and-prevent-anemia-in-pregnancy2.jpgEach disease presents its own challenges. Guyatt and Snow report that, “Although the vast majority of women with malaria infections during pregnancy remain asymptomatic, infection increases the risk of maternal anemia and delivering a low-birth-weight (LBW) baby.” Furthermore, “It is estimated that in areas where malaria is endemic, around 19% of infant LBWs are due to malaria and 6% of infant deaths are due to LBW caused by malaria. These estimates imply that around 100,000 infant deaths each year could be due to LBW caused by malaria during pregnancy in areas of malaria endemicity in Africa.”

Addressing hookworm during pregnancy in Peru, Larocque and colleagues found that pregnant women, “infected with moderate and heavy intensities of hookworm infection and those with moderate and heavy intensities of both hookworm and Trichuris infections were more likely to suffer from anemia than women having no or light intensities. These results support routine anthelminthic treatment within prenatal care programs in highly endemic areas.”

Positive experiences on anthelminthic control were also reported from Nepal in the Lancet. During prenatal care  “… women received albendazole twice during pregnancy. Women given albendazole in the second trimester of pregnancy had a lower rate of severe anaemia during the third trimester. Birthweight of infants of women who had received two doses of albendazole rose by 59 g , and infant mortality at 6 months fell by 41%. Antenatal anthelmintics could be effective in reducing maternal anaemia and improving birthweight and infant survival in hookworm-endemic regions.”

We reported from Mozambique that PMTCT and IPTp for malaria in pregnancy control are integrated into antenatal care in many clinics.  One can see metronidazole in addition to SP and AZT in the picture among the preventive medicines available for pregnant women. Countries can make their choices of anthelminthics, including albendazole, but the meassage that Hotez and Molyneux convey is the need to control NTDs like soil transmitted helminths should be an integral part of services for pregnant women.

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