Thursday, November 7, 2013

Research Highlights: Dietary Iron Supplements May Not Increase Risk of Malaria in Ghanaian Children

Dietary Iron Supplements May Not Increase Risk of Malaria in Ghanaian Children

A study suggesting that iron supplements do not increase malaria incidences in Ghanaian children was recently published in the Journal of the American Medical Association using data collected in 2010. Previous studies have suggested that children living in areas with high rates of malaria are more susceptible to the disease if they take iron supplements. The recent study tested this hypothesis by observing incidences of malaria in two randomly assigned groups of children – one receiving MNP (micronutrient powder) containing iron supplements and one receiving MNP without iron supplements.
1,958 children aged 6 to 35 months living in central Ghana participated in the study. Only children who had not recently taken iron supplements, who did not have a chronic illness, and who were not severely anemic participated. All children received bed-nets treated with insecticide to protect against mosquito bites and were given MNP for five months, then were further observed for one month. Children who became feverish were tested and treated for malaria.
The data collected in this study initially showed lower rates of malaria in children taking iron supplements, but the differences in malaria rates for the two groups were shown to be insignificant after the data was adjusted for error. The results thus showed no clear correlation between taking iron supplements and risk of malaria in Ghanaian children. Researchers added that this study only considered cases where malaria treatment and prevention were readily available, so these results may not be accurate in other cases.
This study is important for countries like Ghana where malaria and iron deficiencies are both prevalent. The practice of providing iron supplements to counter anemia has been limited in Ghana due to the worry that these supplements will increase incidences of malaria, but the results of this study show that this worry may be unfounded under circumstances where effective malaria treatment is available. More research must be conducted to refute any link between iron supplements and malaria risk. For now the results of this study support new opinions about heath policy in countries like Ghana, as the World Health Organization recently recommended that iron supplements be provided in regions where malaria prevention and treatment are implemented. 

JAMA. 2013. 310(9): 938-947

Caroline Russell-Troutman is the 2013-2014 Research Highlights Editor
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