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Alpha-thalassaemia is common in malaria-endemic regions and is considered to confer protection from clinical disease due to infection with Plasmodium falciparum. In vitro, sensitivity to chloroquine (CQ) of P. falciparum infecting alpha-thalassaemic erythrocytes is reduced. We examined, in a cross-sectional study of 405 Nigerian children, associations between alpha-globin genotypes, blood concentrations of CQ, and P. falciparum parasitaemia. Of the children, 44% were alpha+-thalassaemic (36.8% heterozygous, 7.6% homozygous). CQ in blood and P. falciparum-infection were observed in 52 and 80%, respectively. CQ was more frequently found in homozygous alpha+-thalassaemic (71%) than in non-thalassaemic children (50%; odds ratio, 2.42; 95% confidence interval, 1.01–5.8). Among children with CQ in blood and despite similar drug concentrations, alpha+-thalassaemic individuals had fewer infections below the threshold of microscopy which were detectable by PCR only, and they had a higher prevalence of elevated parasitaemia than non-thalassaemic children. No such differences were discernible among drug-free children. CQ displays a lowered efficacy in the suppression of P. falciparum parasitaemia in alpha+-thalassaemic children; hence protection against malaria due to alpha+-thalassaemia may be obscured in areas of intense CQ usage. Moreover, alpha+-thalassaemia may contribute to the expansion of CQ resistance.
Institute of Tropical Medicine and Medical Faculty Charité, Humboldt-University Berlin, Germany 2:
Department of Clinical Chemistry, Dalarna University College, Borlänge, Sweden 3:
Bernhard Nocht Institute for Tropical Medicine, Hamburg, Germany 4:
Postgraduate Institute for Medical Research and Training, University of Ibadan, Nigeria