Trials of intermittent preventive treatment (IPTp) of malaria in pregnant women that compared dihydroartemisinin-piperaquine with the standard of care, sulfadoxine-pyrimethamine, showed dihydroartemisinin-piperaquine was superior at preventing malaria infection, but not at improving birthweight. We aimed to assess whether sulfadoxine-pyrimethamine shows greater non-malarial benefits for birth outcomes than does dihydroartemisinin-piperaquine, and whether dihydroartemisinin-piperaquine shows greater antimalarial benefits for birth outcomes than does sulfadoxine-pyrimethamine.
We defined treatment as random assignment to sulfadoxine-pyrimethamine or dihydroartemisinin-piperaquine before pooling individual participant-level data from 1617 HIV-uninfected pregnant women in Kenya (one trial; n=806) and Uganda (two trials; n=811). We quantified the relative effect of treatment on birthweight (primary outcome) attributed to preventing placental malaria infection (mediator). We estimated antimalarial (indirect) and non-malarial (direct) effects of IPTp on birth outcomes using causal mediation analyses, accounting for confounders. We used two-stage individual participant data meta-analyses to calculate pooled-effect sizes.
Overall, birthweight was higher among neonates of women randomly assigned to sulfadoxine-pyrimethamine compared with women assigned to dihydroartemisinin-piperaquine (mean difference 69 g, 95% CI 26 to 112), despite placental malaria infection being lower in the dihydroartemisinin-piperaquine group (relative risk [RR] 0·64, 95% CI 0·39 to 1·04). Mediation analyses showed sulfadoxine-pyrimethamine conferred a greater non-malarial effect than did dihydroartemisinin-piperaquine (mean difference 87 g, 95% CI 43 to 131), whereas dihydroartemisinin-piperaquine conferred a slightly larger antimalarial effect than did sulfadoxine-pyrimethamine (8 g, -9 to 26), although more frequent dosing increased the antimalarial effect (31 g, 3 to 60).
IPTp with sulfadoxine-pyrimethamine appears to have potent non-malarial effects on birthweight. Further research is needed to evaluate monthly dihydroartemisinin-piperaquine with sulfadoxine-pyrimethamine (or another compound with non-malarial effects) to achieve greater protection against malarial and non-malarial causes of low birthweight.
Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and Worldwide Antimalarial Resistance Network.

Copyright © 2020 The Author(s). Published by Elsevier Ltd. This is an Open Access article under the CC BY 4.0 license. Published by Elsevier Ltd.. All rights reserved.