DAKAR, March 2 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - A drug given
to pregnant women to combat malaria also offers protection
against sexually transmitted infections (STIs), and boosting
doses of the 'double protection' treatment cuts the risk of
infant deaths, researchers said on Thursday.
Giving pregnant women regular doses of antimalarial drugs
greatly reduces the danger of life-threatening birth problems
linked to the mosquito-borne disease and STIs, a study led by
the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) said.
Many of the 880,000 stillbirths and 1.2 million newborn
deaths which occur each year in sub-Saharan Africa are linked to
the mother having an infection, the study found.
"Sexually transmitted and reproductive tract infections are
linked to devastating birth consequences for pregnant women,
including spontaneous abortion, stillbirth and premature and low
birthweight," said Matthew Chico, lead author of the report,
which studied more than 1,000 pregnant women in rural Zambia.
Malaria prevention treatment using the drug
sulphadoxine-pyrimethamine (SP) goes beyond 'life-saving
protection against malaria', the LSHTM assistant professor added
in a statement.
Women in the study who received two or more doses of SP
antimalarial drugs during antenatal care visits were 45 percent
less likely than those who received one or no doses to suffer
problems at birth, such as stillbirth and low birthweight.
Among the women who did experience such issues, those who
had taken two or more doses of SP compared to no or one dose
were 76 percent less likely to have malaria, and 94 percent less
likely to have gonorrhoea or chlamydia.
Although pregnant women in Zambia receive antimalarial drugs
and testing for syphilis and HIV, screening is not routine for
STIs including gonorrhoea, chlamydia and bacterial vaginosis,
the study said.
Only a quarter of pregnant women in sub-Saharan Africa
receive two doses of SP - well below international health
targets - and the study authors called for this to be improved.
"Sulphadoxine-pyrimethamine is a cheap 'double protection'
drug – 20 U.S. cents per dose," said Chico. "For that bargain
price, pregnant women receive broad protection against a range
of infections which can lead to very serious consequences."
(Reporting By Kieran Guilbert, Editing by Katie Nguyen. Please
credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of
Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights,
trafficking, property rights, climate change and resilience.