Low birthweight and infant growth among children in Papua New Guinea - effect of malaria and other infectious diseases during childhood
Document TypePhD thesis
Access StatusThis item is embargoed and will be available on 2022-11-16.
© 2020 Maria Ome-Kaius
Globally, young children continue to die or fail to thrive from treatable and preventable causes including low birthweight (LBW), childhood undernutrition (wasting, stunting, underweight) and infectious diseases. Reducing the burden of these are an essential pillar of global child health and survival targets. These global trends are reflected in Papua New Guinea (PNG), a resource constrained setting that continues to observe high rates of illness and death in young children with LBW, childhood undernutrition and infectious diseases (especially malaria, pneumonia and diarrhoea) continuing to be the leading causes. Improving child health and survival in PNG requires evidence about the risk factors for LBW, sub-optimal growth and infectious diseases, as well as the inter-relatedness of risk factors, that can inform policies and identify appropriate interventions and strategies. This thesis aims to address critical knowledge gaps in this area and provide insights to inform interventions and strategies aimed at reducing low birthweight, childhood undernutrition and malaria in young children in PNG and globally. LBW is caused by a multitude of factors which are often inter-related and with that, it is often difficult to distinguish between independently direct and indirect effects. Moreover, current interventions targeted at preventing LBW generally assume a single dominant cause overlooking the inter-relatedness of risk factors and the possibility of factors exerting joint effects on LBW. These are difficult to establish with widely used standard statistical methods and have therefore been rarely investigated. Using structural equation modelling, we showed intermittent preventive treatment of malaria during pregnancy with sulphadoxine-pyrimethamine (SP) plus azithromycin (AZ) to be independently directly associated with reduced probability of LBW. Unexpectedly, anaemia at enrolment was also directly associated with reduced probability of LBW. Maternal undernutrition at enrolment was independently directly associated with increased probability of LBW. No significant indirect associations between risk factors and LBW were established. After birth, children in lowlands PNG experience high rates of malaria, pneumonia and diarrhoea alongside undernutrition. Infections and undernutrition are believed to have a bi-directional relationship and whilst the effect of undernutrition on risks of illness and death is well known, little is known about the effects of malaria, pneumonia and diarrhoea on growth faltering, particularly among PNG children. By using multivariable regression and distributed lag models for data analysis, we observed malaria pneumonia and diarrhoea to have a differential impact on child growth. The effect of acute malaria on child growth was observed to be long-term while pneumonia and diarrhoea had short-term effects lasting up to 3 months. Of these three diseases, malaria was once ranked the top leading infectious cause of childhood morbidities and mortality in PNG, especially in lowlands PNG. The nationwide scale-up of malaria control interventions significantly reduced overall malaria transmission between 2008 and 2014 but a detailed understanding of the impact of this changing transmission on the epidemiology and risk profile of malaria infections and disease due to the two main species in young children was lacking. By analysing three consecutive longitudinal child cohorts (1-5-year-old children) conducted over the period of improved control (2013), we observed a differential impact of improved control on P. falciparum and P. vivax. Additionally, we showed that with declining malaria transmission, burden of malaria infections and illness were highly spatially localised to areas that had the highest burden prior to scale-up, highlighting potential hotspots of transmission. Collectively, the findings from this thesis provide important insights for improving child health in PNG and globally.
KeywordsPapua New Guinea; Low birthweight; Growth; Children; Malaria; Infectious diseases; Undernutrition; Stunting
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