New study finds malaria could play key role in mother-to-child transmission of HIV in pregnancy

November 17, 2005

Yaoundé, Cameroon (17 November 2005)--Malaria infections boost production of a substance that might significantly increase HIV replication in the placenta. This interaction could explain why mother-to-child transmission (MTCT) of HIV in Yaoundé increases following a rainy season, according to new findings presented at this week's Fourth Multilateral Initiative on Malaria (MIM) Pan-African Malaria Conference.

Laboratory tests have revealed that biological substances known as "proinflammatory cytokines", such as TNF-alpha, which is found in high levels in placentas infected with malaria, could stimulate HIV replication in the placenta.

"Our research highlights the fact that placental malaria, through the placental cytokine network, could play an important role in mother-to-child HIV transmission in utero that has been underestimated so far," said Anfumbom Kfutwah of the Pasteur Center's virology laboratory. (Thursday, 3:10 p.m., Ebony Hall, Parallel Session 26, Presentation 169)

He said scientists have been investigating a possible link between malaria and in utero HIV infections since a study conducted in Yaoundé, Cameroon found that MTCTs peaked three months after the rains peaked. Seasonal rains are known to bring an increase in malaria infections by providing the ideal breeding environment for mosquitoes that carry the disease.

Kfutwah will be discussing a study currently ongoing by scientists at Cameroon's Pasteur Center in collaboration with the Institut Pasteur in Paris, France, on placentas collected from women who were HIV positive and HIV negative, and with and without malaria. This study is investigating the expression of proinflammatory cytokines in relation to both pathogens.

Kfutwah said that further research needs to be done to better understand how the malaria parasite induces the inflammatory response that appears to interfere with the placenta's normal action to protect the fetus from infections.

However, according to Kfutwah, solid evidence of a connection between malaria and risk of fetal infection with HIV could prompt health authorities to consider routinely testing pregnant women in Cameroon and other African countries for both HIV and malaria. Malaria treatment could then be initiated during pregnancy as a way to reduce the risks of infecting the fetus with HIV.

The study by Kfutwah and his colleagues is one of several presentations at the MIM conference that focus on the many challenges arising in a region where co-infections with both HIV, which affects an estimated 29.4 million Africans, and malaria, which sickens 500 million, are unfortunately quite common.

"Each disease by itself is a major problem both for the individuals affected and the health care system," said Andreas Heddini, the MIM Secretariat coordinator. "But the fact that they frequently occur together is a major complicating factor, and we need more research to clarify how the two infections interact and how to best treat co-infection. When you look at the many discussions at MIM, it's clear that African scientists are aware that we cannot look at HIV and malaria in isolation. We must investigate any interactions between what are arguably the two biggest health threats facing the continent today."

Below are descriptions of other MIM presentations investigating issues related to HIV and malaria co-infection:
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To provide coordinated international approach to fighting malaria, the Roll Back Malaria Partnership (RBM) (www.rollbackmalaria.org) was launched in 1998 by the World Health Organization, the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the World Bank. The Partnership now brings together governments of countries affected by malaria, their bilateral and multilateral development partners, the private sector, non-governmental and community-based organizations, foundations, and research and academic institutions around the common goal of halving the global burden of malaria by 2010. World Malaria Report 2005 http://rbm.who.int/wmr2005/

The Multilateral Initiative on Malaria (MIM) (www.mim.su.se), launched in Dakar, Senegal in 1997, is an international alliance of organizations and individuals seeking to maximize the impact of scientific research against malaria in Africa to ensure that research findings yield practical health benefits. The MIM Secretariat was previously hosted for 3-years terms by the Wellcome Trust (UK) and the Fogarty International Center at the National Institutes of Health (US). In 2003, the Secretariat moved to Stockholm, Sweden, where it is hosted by the Karolinska Institute and Stockholm University.

For further information, please contact:

Cameroon
MIM, Wilfred Mbacham, T +237 757 91 80, wfmbacham@yahoo.com

Africa
Massive Effort London UK, Louis Da Gama, T +44 208 357 7413, M +44 7990 810642, ldagama@gmail.com Massive Effort South Africa, Vanessa Peter, T +27 82 327 6286, v_bester@yahoo.co.uk

Europe, Scandinavia and Asia
Good Company, Maria Dalayman T +46-8-545 805 54, M +46 70 685 40 05, maria@goodcompany.se

France and Belgium
Massive Effort Paris, Patrick Bertrand, T+33 6 60 04 04 42, P.bertrand@noos.fr

UK Peter Robbs Consultants Ltd, Cathy Bartley, T +44 (0) 207 635 1593, M +44 (0)79 58 56 16 71, cathy.bartley@ukonline.co.uk

US/Canada
Burness Communications, Ellen Wilson, T +1 301 652 1558, ext 108, M +1 301 922 4969, ewilson@burnesscommunications.com

or visit our pressroom at www.mim.su.se/conference2005/eng/pressroom.html.
For online registration please visit http://www.rollbackmalaria.org/forumV/pressinfo.htm.

You can also find information about malaria on the following links: The PATH Malaria Vaccine Initiative: www.malariavaccine.org, Medicines for Malaria Venture: www.mmv.org and Special Programme for Research and Training in Tropical Diseases (TDR) World Health Organization: www.who.int/tdr

The conference organizers and the Kaiser Family Foundation, through its online news summary and webcasting service, kaisernetwork.org, are working together to bring online coverage of the conference to those unable to attend. Kaisernetwork.org's comprehensive online coverage will include webcasts and transcripts of each day's plenary sessions and selected other sessions, text summaries of select sessions, and interviews with newsmakers. Slide presentations from select sessions will also be available. Access the coverage at http://www.kaisernetwork.org/malaria2005.

Burness

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