Approximately 1 million children <5 y living in sub-Saharan Africa die from severe anemia annually. This severe anemia frequently results from coexisting iron deficiency and malaria infection, but the standard of care, concurrent iron therapy and antimalarial treatment, has proven ineffective at curing the profound anemia and has promoted proliferation of the parasite in some studies. The pro-inflammatory immune response mounted against malaria down-regulates iron absorption in the gut, making provision of oral iron supplements during malarial infection of questionable utility. The present study proposes to use iron stable isotopes and a randomized design to test whether starting 4 weeks of iron therapy immediately after antimalarial treatment or 4 weeks later is associated with greater iron incorporation into red blood cells at the time of initial administration of iron theray and improved long-term hematological recovery. One hundred severely anemic (hemoglobin 5-7.9 g/dL) Ugandan children 6-36 mos with clinical signs of malaria who present to the Pediatric Acute Care Ward of Mulago Hospital in Kampala, Uganda, will be randomized to start iron immediately after antimalarial treatment on Day 0 (immediate group) or 4 weeks later on Day 28 (delayed group). Children will be assessed at the hospital on Day 0, Day 28 and Day 56 and will receive bi-weekly home visits for the 56-day study duration.
The specific aims and corresponding hypotheses of the proposed study are:
Aim 1 : Identify the sequencing of antimalarial treatment and iron therapy that results in the greatest red cell iron incorporation at the time of initial iron supplement administration. The working hypothesis is that red cell iron incorporation will be greater at the time of initial supplement administration in children starting iron 4 weeks after antimalarial treatment (delayed group) compared to children starting iron concurrently with antimalarial treatment (immediate group), due to more complete parasite clearance and resolution of inflammation, permitting better iron uptake, distribution, and utilization.
Aim 2 : Determine whether long-term hematological recovery is impacted by immediate vs. delayed iron. The working hypothesis is that delayed iron treatment will be associated with greater hemoglobin and improved iron status at Day 56 compared to immediate treatment due to more complete parasite clearance and consequent improved iron absorption and use in the delayed group. The results of this study will establish a physiologically-based framework for the optimal timing of antimalarial treatment and iron therapy upon which future interventions aimed at improving iron status in malaria-endemic regions can be built, thus helping to reduce the morbidity and mortality and ensure the full neurobehavioral development of the millions of severely anemic children suffering from iron-deficiency and malaria.
Iron deficiency and malaria coexist in sub-Saharan Africa and frequently lead to severe anemia, cognitive impairment, and mortality among children <5 y. The present study will use stable iron isotopes to determine whether treating malaria and associated inflammation first, and delaying iron therapy by four weeks, results in greater iron absorption compared to concurrent iron and antimalarial treatment, the current standard of care. The results of this study will establish the optimum sequencing of iron and antimalarial treatment, thus guiding future iron and malaria intervention programs in Africa and other malaria-endemic regions.