Clinical Features and Outcome in Children with Severe Plasmodium falciparum Malaria: A Meta-Analysis

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    Although global malaria mortality is declining, estimates may not reflect better inpatient management of severe malaria (SM) where reported case fatality rates (CFRs) vary from 1–25%.


    A meta-analysis of prospective studies of SM was conducted to examine i) whether hypothesized differences between clinical features and outcome in Melanesian compared with African or Asian children really exist, and ii) to explore temporal changes in overall and complication-specific CFRs. The proportions of different SM complications and, overall and complication-specific CFRs were incorporated into the meta-analysis. Adjustments were made for study-level covariates including geographic region, SM definition, artemisinin treatment, median age of participants and time period.


    Sixty-five studies were included. Substantial heterogeneity (I2>80%) was demonstrated for most outcomes. SM definition contributed to between-study heterogeneity in proportions of cerebral malaria (CM), metabolic acidosis (MA), severe anemia and overall CFR, whilst geographic region was a significant moderator in for CM and hypoglycemia (HG) rates. Compared with their African counterparts, Melanesian children had lower rates of HG (10% [CI95 7–13%] versus 1% [0–3%], P<0.05), lower overall CFR (2% [0–4%] versus 7% [6–9%], P<0.05) and lower CM-specific CFR (8% [0–17%] versus 19% [16–21%], P<0.05). There was no temporal trend for overall CFR and CM-specific CFR but declining HG- and MA- specific CFRs were observed.


    These data highlight that recent estimates of declining global malaria mortality are not replicated by improved outcomes for children hospitalized with SM. Significant geographic differences in the complication rates and subsequent CFRs exist and provide the first robust confirmation of lower CFRs in Melanesian children, perhaps due to less frequent HG.

    Original languageEnglish
    Article numbere86737
    Number of pages11
    JournalPLoS One
    Issue number2
    Publication statusPublished - 6 Feb 2014


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