Ending malaria key to fixing iron deficiency

Monday, May 17th, 2021 00:00 | By
Malaria spreading mosquito. PHOTO/Courtesy

Malaria control reduces iron deficiency in African children, researchers at the Kenya Medical Research Institute (Kemri) report.

Researchers John Muriuki and Prof Sarah Atkinson now believe that reducing incidences of malaria cuts into half the prevalence of iron deficiency in African children by 49 per cent.

In their research findings published in Nature Medicine Journal, the researchers suggest that malaria causes iron deficiency by increasing the hormone, which blocks iron absorption.

Studies in Kenya and the Gambia show that iron deficiency increases over the malaria season and interrupting malaria transmission reduces iron deficiency.

According to the research, iron deficiency is an important public health problem in children living in sub-Saharan Africa.

It affects approximately half of the children and is a leading cause of years lived with disability due to long-term effects of brain development.

Research conducted by Prof John Pettifor of the Department of Paediatrics and Child Health at the University of Witwatersrand, South Africa indicates that iron deficiency in children develops slowly leading to the body becoming pale and weak.

The children eat less and tire easily. This results in poor weight gain, frequent respiratory and intestinal infections and may develop pica- which is a disorder where a person eats items that have no nutritive value such as ice.

“The most worrying association is that between iron deficiency and impaired development in behaviour, cognition, and psychomotor skills,“ observed Prof Pettifor.

Researchers also conclude that iron deficiency is associated with many other disadvantages such as poverty, low birth weight, malnutrition, poor education among mothers.

Globally, iron deficiency affects 20 to 50 per cent of the world’s population- with children and women the worst hit.

Giving iron supplements is the primary intervention to manage iron deficiency in children.

Safety of iron supplements in malaria prone areas has been a concern, however as it may predispose children to the disease and other infections.

“These findings will be of significant interest to policy makers in shifting thinking away from concern that iron supplements may do harm and towards the benefits of controlling malaria in managing iron deficiency,” noted the Kemri researchers.

According to the World Health Organisation, children under five years are the most vulnerable to malaria. In 2019, the group accounted for 274,000 death or 67 per cent of all malaria deaths worldwide.

Africa carried a disproportionately high share of the global malaria burden. In 2019, the region was home to 94 per cent of malaria cases and deaths. 

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