Malaria in the first trimester of pregnancy: Protecting women through research

Malaria in the first trimester of pregnancy: Protecting women through research

A nurse providing a medical exam to a pregnant woman lying on a cot

Image: US President’s Malaria Initiative

Stephanie Dellicour & Myriam El Gaaloul

Pregnant women in their first trimester are at risk of malaria 

Eileen Buxton is a Ghanaian nurse who contracted malaria while pregnant with twins. As a health care professional, she recognized the symptoms such as high fever, severe nausea, and vomiting. She sought care and was given artemether-lumefantrine, a medicine that was recently recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO) to treat malaria in the first trimester of pregnancy.

Unfortunately, the situation where medicines are available and determined to be safe for use in first-trimester pregnancy is uncommon. According to the Concept Foundation, since the 1990s, only two drugs have been developed specifically for pregnant women. Furthermore, in the clinical research stage of medicine development, pregnant women, especially those in their first trimester, have been historically excluded for fear of causing harm to the mother and the baby. As a result, health care professionals and pregnant women are left with limited information, making it difficult to make informed decisions about the best course of treatment. Well-tolerated and effective antimalarials, as well as medicines for other diseases, must be developed and made available, accessible, and affordable for pregnant women like Eileen. 

Read the full op-ed on GHTC's website.