JOURNAL ARTICLE
REVIEW

Oral iron supplementation for preventing or treating anaemia among children in malaria-endemic areas

Juliana U Ojukwu, Joseph U Okebe, Dafna Yahav, Mical Paul
Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2009, (3): CD006589
19588399

BACKGROUND: Iron-deficiency anaemia is common during childhood. Iron supplementation has been claimed to increase the risk of malaria.

OBJECTIVES: To assess the effect of iron on malaria and deaths.

SEARCH STRATEGY: We searched The Cochrane Library (2009, issue 1); MEDLINE; EMBASE; LILACS and metaRegister of Controlled Trials, all up to March 2009. We scanned references of included trials.

SELECTION CRITERIA: Individually and cluster-randomized controlled trials conducted in hypoendemic to holoendemic malaria regions and including children < 18 years. We included trials comparing orally administered iron with or without folic acid vs. placebo or no treatment. Iron fortification was excluded. Antimalarials and/or antiparasitics could be administered to either group. Additional micronutrients could only be administered equally to both groups.

DATA COLLECTION AND ANALYSIS: The primary outcomes were malaria-related events and deaths. Secondary outcomes included haemoglobin, anaemia, other infections, growth, hospitalizations, and clinic visits. We assessed risk of bias using domain-based evaluation. Two authors independently selected studies and extracted data. We contacted authors for missing data. We assessed heterogeneity. We performed fixed-effect meta-analysis and presented random-effects results when heterogeneity was present. We present pooled risk ratios (RR) with 95% confidence intervals (CIs). We used adjusted analyses for cluster-randomized trials.

MAIN RESULTS: Sixty-eight trials (42,981 children) fulfilled the inclusion criteria. Iron supplementation did not increase the risk of clinical malaria (RR 1.00, 95% CI 0.88 to 1.13; 22,724 children, 14 trials, random-effects model). The risk was similar among children who were non-anaemic at baseline (RR 0.96, 95% CI 0.85 to 1.09). An increased risk of malaria with iron was observed in trials that did not provide malaria surveillance and treatment. The risk of malaria parasitaemia was higher with iron (RR 1.13, 95% CI 1.01 to 1.26), but there was no difference in adequately concealed trials. Iron + antimalarial was protective for malaria (four trials). Iron did not increase the risk of parasitological failure when given during malaria (three trials). There was no increased risk of death across all trials comparing iron versus placebo (RR 1.11, 95% CI 0.91 to 1.36; 21,272 children, 12 trials). Iron supplementation increased haemoglobin, with significant heterogeneity, and malaria endemicity did not affect this effect. Growth and other infections were mostly not affected by iron supplementation.

AUTHORS' CONCLUSIONS: Iron does not increase the risk of clinical malaria or death, when regular malaria surveillance and treatment services are provided. There is no need to screen for anaemia prior to iron supplementation.

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