The high frequency of α+-thalassemia in malaria-endemic regions may reflect natural selection due to protection from potentially fatal severe malaria. In Africa, bearing 90% of global malaria morbidity and mortality, this has not yet been observed. We tested this hypothesis in an unmatched case-control study among 301 Ghanaian children with severe malaria and 2107 controls (62% parasitemic). In control children, α+- thalassemia affected neither prevalence nor density of Plasmodium falciparum. However, heterozygous α+-thalassemia was observed in 32.6% of controls but in only 26.2% of cases (odds ratio [OR], 0.74; 95% confidence interval [CI], 0.56-0.98). Protection against severe malaria was found to be pronounced comparing severe malaria patients with parasitemic controls (adjusted OR in children < 5 years of age, 0.52; 95% CI, 0.34-0.78) and to wane with age. No protective effect was discernible for homozygous children. Our findings provide evidence for natural selection of α+-thalassemia in Africa due to protection from severe malaria.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Cell Biology