Pregnant adolescents in sub-Saharan Africa are more likely to contract malaria than adult women

Having a baby if you are an adolescent increases the risk of complications during pregnancy and childbirth. The same is true if you are pregnant and have malaria. Now, imagine being a pregnant adolescent with a malaria infection.

Malaria is a leading cause of death among adolescent girls worldwide

In Africa, an estimated 9 million girls between the ages of 15 and 19 become pregnant each year. Many live in malaria-endemic regions. “Surprisingly, very few studies in sub-Saharan Africa have compared the burden of malaria in pregnant adolescents with that in pregnant adults,” says Raquel González, a researcher in the Maternal, Child and Reproductive Health Programme led by Clara Menéndez.

To fill this gap and better understand the interaction between malaria, adolescence and pregnancy, Menéndez and her team analysed data from 5,804 pregnant women who took part in two clinical trials conducted between 2009 and 2014 in five sub-Saharan countries: Benin, Gabon, Mozambique, Tanzania and Kenya.

Higher risk of malaria

The meta-analysis revealed that adolescent girls were 1.7 times more likely to become ill with malaria during pregnancy and were at increased risk of being infected at the time of delivery. This was true whether or not they were HIV-positive.

The study highlights the need to focus efforts on preventing pregnancy among adolescents living in malaria-endemic regions. “It also means that we need to make sure that they have access to the appropriate information and tools to avoid contracting the disease if they do become pregnant,” adds Menéndez.

Pons-Duran C, Mombo-Ngoma G, Macete E et al. Burden of malaria in pregnancy among adolescent girls compared to adult women in 5 sub-Saharan African countries: A secondary individual participant data meta-analysis of 2 clinical trials. Plos Med. 2022. Sep 2;19(9):e1004084. doi: 10.1371/journal.pmed.1004084

Photo: UN, Hien Macline