Kenya Medical Research Institute (KEMRI) Unveils Groundbreaking Malaria Prevention Drug for Pregnant Women Living with HIV

In a pioneering breakthrough, the Kenya Medical Research Institute (KEMRI) and its research partners have introduced a groundbreaking drug aimed at lowering malaria rates among pregnant women living with HIV. The study, named "IMPROVE-2," emerged from a collaborative effort involving the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, the Kamuzu University of Health Sciences, and the Malawi University of Science and Technology.

Highlighted in the esteemed Lancet medical journal, the newly developed drug has demonstrated encouraging results in preventing malaria during pregnancy, particularly for HIV-positive women. The study investigated the incorporation of the antimalarial drug dihydroartemisinin–piperaquine alongside daily co-trimoxazole, revealing a remarkable 68 per cent reduction in malaria incidences among pregnant women living with HIV.

Prof. Elijah Songok, Acting Director General of KEMRI, expressed contentment with the published findings, emphasizing the drug's potential as a vital tool in malaria prevention for high-risk pregnant women. Malaria during pregnancy poses significant health risks, including miscarriage, stillbirth, pre-term delivery, and newborn growth restriction, with HIV co-infection exacerbating these dangers.

Currently, the standard approach for preventing malaria in pregnant women with HIV involves daily doses of the antibiotic co-trimoxazole. However, escalating resistance among malaria parasites threatens the efficacy of this treatment, necessitating innovative solutions.

Dr. Hellen Barsosio, a Clinical Research Scientist from KEMRI’s Centre for Global Health Research and lead author of the study, underscored the safety and tolerance levels of the new drug. Dr Barsosio highlighted that besides preventing two out of every three malaria infections during pregnancy, the drug exhibited favourable tolerance levels among pregnant women, a critical aspect of preventive treatments.

While the World Health Organization (WHO) advocates for daily co-trimoxazole administration for pregnant women in high malaria transmission areas, Prof. Songok raised concerns regarding diminishing efficacy due to mounting resistance. He emphasized the urgency for alternative preventive treatments.

The study, encompassing 904 women, represents a significant stride in malaria prevention endeavours, offering prospects for policy adjustments that could substantially enhance maternal and newborn health across Africa. Researchers are optimistic that these findings, coupled with ongoing trials in Gabon and Mozambique, could influence WHO guidelines and national health policies about malaria prevention.


Article by RB Correspodent