Low-dose daily iron supplementation for 12 months does not increase the prevalence of malarial infection or density of parasites in young Zanzibari children

Document Type

Journal Article

Publication Date



Journal of Nutrition








Anemia; Children; Epidemiology; Iron; Malaria


Conflicting evidence exists on the possible role of iron supplementation in the predisposition to malaria infection or the enhancement of its clinical severity. Where anemia prevalence is >40%, current guidelines are to provide low-dose daily iron to young children for up to 18 mo. Earlier studies used doses higher than the current guidelines, intermittent doses, or have supplemented for durations ≤ 4 mo. We aimed to assess the effect of low-dose, long-term iron supplementation on malaria infection using a double-blind, placebo-controlled, randomized design, and to examine possible subgroup effects by season and child age. The study was conducted in Pemba Island, Zanzibar, where Plasmodium falciparum malaria has year-round high transmission. A community-based sample of 614 children 4-71 mo old was randomly allocated to 10 mg/d iron or placebo for 12 mo. Outcome measures were the prevalence and density of malaria infection, which was assessed by blood films at monthly intervals. At baseline, 94.4% were anemic (hemoglobin < 110 g/L), 48.1% were stunted (height-for-age Z-score less than -2) and >80% had malaria-positive blood films. No significant differences in malariometric indices were observed between children in the iron-supplemented and placebo groups. Parasite density was higher in certain months and in younger children, but iron supplementation was not associated with any malarial infection outcome in any season or age subgroup. We conclude that in this environment of high malaria transmission, daily oral low-dose supplementation of iron for 12 mo did not affect the prevalence of malaria infection or parasite density.