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Associations between the use of herbal medicines and adverse pregnancy outcomes in rural Malawi: a secondary analysis of randomised controlled trial data

Zamawe, Collins, King, Carina, Jennings, Hannah Maria, Fottrell, Edward
BMC complementary and alternative medicine 2018 v.18 no.1 pp. 166
alternative medicine, community programs, cross-sectional studies, death, demography, health care workers, herbal medicines, models, morbidity, neonatal mortality, neonates, pregnancy outcome, pregnant women, randomized clinical trials, surveys, Malawi
BACKGROUND: The use of herbal medicines during pregnancy is very high globally and previous studies have pointed out possible associations with adverse pregnancy outcomes. Nevertheless, the safety of herbal medicines in pregnancy is under-explored in low-income countries experiencing high maternal and neonatal complications. We investigated the associations between self-reported use of Mwanamphepo (a group of herbal medicines commonly used to induce or hasten labour) and adverse maternal and neonatal outcomes in rural Malawi. METHODS: We conducted a cross-sectional analysis of secondary household data relating to 8219 births that occurred between 2005 and 2010 in Mchinji district, Malawi. The data were collected as part of a cluster-randomised controlled trial (RCT) that evaluated community interventions designed to reduce maternal and neonatal mortality. Data were gathered on maternity history, demographic characteristics, pregnancy outcomes and exposure to Mwanamphepo. Associations between self-reported use of Mwanamphepo and maternal morbidity as well as neonatal death or morbidity were examined using mixed-effects models, adjusted for relevant covariates. All analyses were also adjusted for the clustered nature of the survey. RESULTS: Of the 8219 births, Mwanamphepo was used in 2113 pregnancies, representing an estimated prevalence of 25.7%. The self-reported use of Mwanamphepo was significantly associated with increased occurrence of maternal morbidity and neonatal death or morbidity. Specifically, the odds of maternal morbidity were 28% higher among self-reported users than non-users of Mwanamphepo (AOR = 1.28; 95% CI = 1.09–1.50) and the probabilities of neonatal death or morbidity were 22% higher (AOR =1.22; 95% CI = 1.06–1.40) among neonates whose mother reportedly used Mwanamphepo than those who did not. CONCLUSION: The use of Mwanamphepo was associated with adverse pregnancy outcomes in rural Malawi. Thus, herbal medicines may not be safe in pregnancy. Where possible, pregnant women should be discouraged from using herbal medicines of unconfirmed safety and those who report to have used should be closely monitored by health professionals. The study was limited by the self-report of exposure and unavailability of data relating to some possible confounders.