Tracking Malaria in Pregnant Women Shows Lower Spread After New Control Methods

Jim Crocker
18th March, 2024

Tracking Malaria in Pregnant Women Shows Lower Spread After New Control Methods

Image Source: Natural Science News, 2024

Key Findings

  • Study in Mozambique shows pregnant women's blood samples can help track malaria parasite genetics
  • Genetic diversity of malaria parasites is similar in pregnant women and children, aiding surveillance
  • Decline in parasite diversity at ANC clinics suggests a recent drop in malaria cases in targeted areas
Malaria remains a significant public health challenge, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa where the disease is endemic. One of the parasites responsible for malaria, Plasmodium falciparum, has a knack for developing resistance to drugs, making the fight against the disease even more difficult. A new approach to monitor the parasite's genetic changes could be a game-changer for malaria control and elimination efforts. Researchers from ISGlobal, in collaboration with the Universitat de Barcelona, have conducted a study[1] that proposes a novel and potentially more efficient method for genomic surveillance of P. falciparum. By analyzing blood samples from pregnant women during their first antenatal care visit, scientists can gain insights into the genetic structure of the malaria parasite population. The study compares these findings with samples collected from children in the community, offering a comprehensive look at the parasite's genetic makeup. The significance of this study lies in its focus on pregnant women as a key demographic for malaria surveillance. Previous research[2] has shown that pregnant women attending antenatal care clinics can serve as a reliable indicator of malaria trends in the broader community. This new study builds on that foundation by using genomic data to reveal more detailed information about the parasite's genetic diversity and drug resistance. The study's findings suggest that the genetic diversity and relatedness of P. falciparum, as well as the presence of drug resistance markers, are consistent between pregnant women and children. This consistency underscores the potential of using pregnant women as a representative sample for genomic surveillance. In regions where malaria elimination is targeted, a notable decline in genetic diversity among the parasites was observed, along with an increase in genetic relatedness between infections. These changes indicate a recent reduction in the number of parasites, which is a positive sign for malaria elimination efforts. The research taps into the strategic use of P. falciparum's genetic variation, as highlighted in earlier studies[3], which emphasize the importance of sampling design and the consideration of epidemiological, biological, and statistical factors. By focusing on first ANC visits, the study leverages a routine healthcare interaction as a strategic point for collecting parasite samples, aligning with public health priorities. Moreover, the study's methodology of amplicon sequencing targeting specific microhaplotypes and drug resistance genes is a testament to the technological advancements in the field. This approach allows for a detailed examination of the parasite's genetic structure, offering insights into the dynamics of drug resistance. The increase in resistance-associated markers, such as those observed in Mozambique[4], can be tracked over time to inform treatment policies and intervention strategies. The research also builds on the understanding of P. vivax's impact on pregnant women, as seen in the State of Acre, Brazil[5]. While the current study focuses on P. falciparum, the principles of genetic surveillance and the importance of monitoring malaria in pregnant women are applicable across different species of the parasite. In essence, the study by ISGlobal and Universitat de Barcelona presents a compelling case for integrating genomic surveillance into routine antenatal care services. It not only offers a cost-efficient and convenient way to collect data but also provides valuable genetic information that can enhance our understanding of malaria transmission and resistance patterns. As such, it holds the promise of informing and improving public health actions aimed at controlling and ultimately eliminating malaria.



Main Study

1) Genomic malaria surveillance of antenatal care users detects reduced transmission following elimination interventions in Mozambique.

Published 16th March, 2024

Related Studies

2) Detecting temporal and spatial malaria patterns from first antenatal care visits.

3) Sampling for malaria molecular surveillance.

4) Targeted and whole-genome sequencing reveal a north-south divide in P. falciparum drug resistance markers and genetic structure in Mozambique.

5) Genetic diversity of Plasmodium vivax isolates from pregnant women in the Western Brazilian Amazon: a prospective cohort study.

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