Despite substantial improvement in the control of malaria and decreased prevalence of malnutrition over the past two decades, both conditions remain heavy burdens that cause hundreds of thousands of deaths in children in resource-poor countries every year. Better understanding of the complex interactions between malaria and malnutrition is crucial for optimally targeting interventions where both conditions co-exist. This systematic review aimed to assess the evidence of the interplay between malaria and malnutrition.
Database searches were conducted in PubMed, Global Health and Cochrane Libraries and articles published in English, French or Spanish between Jan 1980 and Feb 2018 were accessed and screened. The methodological quality of the included studies was assessed using the Newcastle-Ottawa Scale and the risk of bias across studies was assessed using the GRADE approach. The preferred reporting items for systematic reviews and meta-analyses (PRISMA) guideline were followed.
Of 2945 articles screened from databases, a total of 33 articles were identified looking at the association between malnutrition and risk of malaria and/or the impact of malnutrition in antimalarial treatment efficacy. Large methodological heterogeneity of studies precluded conducting meaningful aggregated data meta-analysis. Divergent results were reported on the effect of malnutrition on malaria risk. While no consistent association between risk of malaria and acute malnutrition was found, chronic malnutrition was relatively consistently associated with severity of malaria such as high-density parasitemia and anaemia. Furthermore, there is little information on the effect of malnutrition on therapeutic responses to artemisinin combination therapies (ACTs) and their pharmacokinetic properties in malnourished children in published literature.
The evidence on the effect of malnutrition on malaria risk remains inconclusive. Further analyses using individual patient data could provide an important opportunity to better understand the variability observed in publications by standardising both malaria and nutritional metrics. Our findings highlight the need to improve our understanding of the pharmacodynamics and pharmacokinetics of ACTs in malnourished children. Further clarification on malaria-malnutrition interactions would also serve as a basis for designing future trials and provide an opportunity to optimise antimalarial treatment for this large, vulnerable and neglected population.