Effect of vitamin A supplementation on morbidity due to Plasmodium falciparum in young children in Papua New Guinea: a randomised trial.
Shankar AH., Genton B., Semba RD., Baisor M., Paino J., Tamja S., Adiguma T., Wu L., Rare L., Tielsch JM., Alpers MP., West KP.
BackgroundMany individuals at risk of malaria also have micronutrient deficiencies that may hamper protective immunity. Vitamin A is central to normal immune function, and supplementation has been shown to lower the morbidity of some infectious diseases. We investigated the effect of vitamin A supplementation on malaria morbidity.MethodsThis randomised double-blind placebo-controlled trial of vitamin A supplementation took place in a P. falciparum endemic area of Papua New Guinea. Of 520 potentially eligible children aged 6-60 months, 480 were randomly assigned high-dose vitamin A (n=239) or placebo (n=241), every 3 months for 13 months. Malaria morbidity was assessed through weekly community-based case detection and surveillance of patients who self-reported to the health centre. Cross-sectional surveys were also done at the beginning, middle, and end of the study to assess malariometric indicators. Analyses were by intention to treat.FindingsThe number of P. falciparum febrile episodes (temperature > or = 37.5 degrees C with a parasite count of at least 8000/microL) was 30% lower in the vitamin A group than in the placebo group (178 vs 249 episodes; relative risk 0.70 [95% CI 0.57-0.87], p=0.0013). At the end of the study P. falciparum geometric mean density was lower in the vitamin A than the placebo group (1300 [907-1863] vs 2039 [1408-2951]) as was the proportion with spleen enlargement (125/196 [64%] vs 148/207 [71%]); neither difference was significant (p=0.093 and p=0.075). Children aged 12-36 months benefited most, having 35% fewer febrile episodes (89 vs 141; relative risk 0.65 [14-50], p=0.0023), 26% fewer enlarged spleens (46/79 [58%] vs 67/90 [74%], p=0.0045), and a 68% lower parasite density (1160 [95% CI 665-2022] vs 3569 [2080-6124], p=0.0054). Vitamin A had no consistent effect on cross-sectional indices of proportion infected or with anaemia.InterpretationVitamin A supplementation may be an effective low-cost strategy to lower morbidity due to P. falciparum in young children. The findings suggest that clinical episodes, spleen enlargement, and parasite density are influenced by different immunological mechanisms from infection and anaemia.