A study led by the UK-based Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine (LSTM) has shown that a new drug treatment has the potential to prevent malaria during pregnancy for women living with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).

The World Health Organisation (WHO) currently advises pregnant HIV women who live in areas with high malaria transmission to take daily doses of the antibiotic co-trimoxazole to prevent malaria.

However, its effectiveness in sub-Saharan Africa is threatening as malaria parasites have become more resistant to the medication.

LSTM-led IMPROVE-2 study was conducted in collaboration with colleagues from the Kenya Medical Research Institute (KEMRI), the Kamuzu University of Health Sciences, and the Malawi University of Science and Technology.

According to the results, the addition of the antimalarial drug dihydroartemisinin–piperaquine to daily co-trimoxazole significantly lowers the risk of malaria in pregnancy.

The trial enrolled 904 women and assigned randomly to the new drug therapy group against a monthly placebo plus daily co-trimoxazole in women living with HIV.

The findings showed that the pregnant patients who received daily co-trimoxazole plus monthly dihydroartemisinin–piperaquine had 68% fewer cases of malaria during their pregnancy than those who received daily co-trimoxazole alone as the standard of care.

LSTM tropical epidemiology professor and study lead Feiko ter Kuile said: “These are promising findings, and potentially welcome news in the future of prevention malaria among pregnant women living with HIV in areas where prevalence of the disease is high.

“Our trial showed that the addition of dihydroartemisinin–piperaquine to the currently recommended preventative treatment strategy for pregnant women living with HIV reduced malaria by 68%.”

This study is the result of several trials that LSTM and partners like KEMRI coordinated to investigate other options for preventing malaria in pregnant women without HIV.

IMPROVE-2 also saw the participation of investigators from the University of Copenhagen, Denmark, from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Atlanta, Georgia, US.