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Prevalence of congenital malaria in high-risk Ghanaian newborns: a cross-sectional study

Christabel C Enweronu-Laryea1*, George O Adjei2, Benjamin Mensah3, Nancy Duah4 and Neils B Quashie2

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Child Health, University of Ghana Medical School, P O Box 4236, Accra, Ghana

2 Centre for Tropical Clinical Pharmacology and Therapeutics, University of Ghana Medical School, Accra, Ghana

3 Department of Haematology, Korle Bu Teaching Hospital, Accra, Ghana

4 Department of Epidemiology, Noguchi Memorial Institute for Medical Research, University of Ghana, Accra, Ghana

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Malaria Journal 2013, 12:17  doi:10.1186/1475-2875-12-17

Published: 11 January 2013



Congenital malaria is defined as malaria parasitaemia in the first week of life. The reported prevalence of congenital malaria in sub-Saharan Africa is variable (0 - 46%). Even though the clinical significance of congenital malaria parasitaemia is uncertain, anti-malarial drugs are empirically prescribed for sick newborns by frontline health care workers. Data on prevalence of congenital malaria in high-risk newborns will inform appropriate drug use and timely referral of sick newborns.


Blood samples of untreated newborns less than 1 week of age at the time of referral to Korle Bu Teaching hospital in Accra, Ghana during the peak malaria seasons (April to July) of 2008 and 2010 were examined for malaria parasites by, i) Giemsa-stained thick and thin blood smears for parasite count and species identification, ii) histidine-rich protein- and lactic dehydrogenase-based rapid diagnosis tests, or iii) polymerase chain reaction amplification of the merozoite surface protein 2 gene, for identification of sub-microscopic parasitaemia. Other investigations were also done as clinically indicated.


In 2008, nine cases of Plasmodium falciparum parasitaemia were diagnosed by microscopy in 405 (2.2%) newborns. All the nine newborns had low parasite densities (≤50 per microlitre). In 2010, there was no case of parasitaemia by either microscopy or rapid diagnosis tests in 522 newborns; however, 56/467 (12%) cases of P. falciparum were detected by polymerase chain reaction.


Congenital malaria is an uncommon cause of clinical illness in high-risk untreated newborns referred to a tertiary hospital in the first week of life. Empirical anti-malarial drug treatment for sick newborns without laboratory confirmation of parasitaemia is imprudent. Early referral of sick newborns to hospitals with resources and skills for appropriate care is recommended.

Congenital; Malaria; Newborn; Ghana