"Reliable research about the benefits and harms of treatments for malaria in pregnant women is scarce," Orton says.
The review appears in the July issue of The Cochrane Library, a publication of The Cochrane Collaboration, an international organization that evaluates medical research. Systematic reviews draw evidence-based conclusions about medical practice after considering both the content and quality of existing medical trials on a topic.
In one of the studies analyzed by Orton and colleagues, a combination of the drugs artesunate and mefloquine was slightly better than the drug quinine at clearing malaria parasites from the bloodstream and reducing fever in pregnant women.
The risk of treatment failure was 9 percent less in the group receiving the combination drug regime, compared to treatment failure rates in the quinine group, the researchers found. The study included 106 women in Thailand.
The researchers reviewed six studies of antimalarial drugs in pregnant women in Southeast Asia and Africa. All of the women had uncomplicated malaria, meaning that they were ill and infected with the malaria parasite but not at immediate risk of dying from the disease. The studies included 513 women in their second or third trimester of pregnancy.
The studies tested a variety of antimalarial drugs, which complicated the reviewers' task of determining if any of the drug regimes should be recommended, according to Orton.
"As trials were all rather small and varied in the treatments evaluated, it is not surprising that this review was unable to demonstrate any clear direction for policy," Orton says.