Cerebral malaria is associated with long-term mental health disorders: a cross sectional survey of a long-term cohort

Richard Idro, Angelina Kakooza-Mwesige, Benjamin Asea, Keron Ssebyala, Paul Bangirana, Robert Opoka, Samson K. Lubowa, Margaret Semrud-Clikeman, Chandy C. John, Joyce Nalugya

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle



Cerebral malaria (CM) and severe malarial anaemia (SMA) are associated with neuro-developmental impairment in African children, but long-term mental health disorders in these children are not well defined.


A cohort of children previously exposed to CM (n = 173) or SMA (n = 99) had neurologic assessments performed and screening for behaviour difficulties using the Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire (SDQ) a median of 21 months after the disease episode. These findings were compared to concurrently recruited community children (CC, n = 108). Participants with SDQ total difficulties score ≥17 had a mental health interview with the child and adolescent version of the Mini-International Neuropsychiatric Interview (MINI-KID) and a sample had brain magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).


Fifty-five children had SDQ score ≥17. On the MINI-KID, these children were classified as having no difficulties (n = 18), behaviour difficulties only (n = 13) or a mental health disorder (n = 24). Behaviour difficulties were seen in similar frequencies in CM (3.5 %), SMA (4.0 %) and CC (2.8 %). In contrast, mental health disorders were most frequent in CM (10.4 %), followed by SMA (4.0 %) and CC (1.8 %). Externalizing disorders (conduct, oppositional defiance and attention deficit hyperactivity) were the most common mental health disorders. The median total coma duration was 72 (IQR 36.0–115.0) h in patients with mental health disorders compared to 48 (IQR 28.5–78.7) h in those without, p = 0.039. Independent risk factors for mental health disorder included neurologic deficit at discharge (OR 4.09 (95 % CI 1.60, 10.5) and seizure recurrences during hospitalization, (OR 2.80, 95 % CI 1.13, 6.97). Brain MRI findings consistent with small vessel ischaemic neural injury was seen in over half of these children.


Cerebral malaria may predispose children to mental health disorders, possibly as a consequence of ischaemic neural injury. There is urgent need for programmes of follow-up, diagnosis and interventions for these children.

Original languageUndefined/Unknown
JournalPaediatrics and Child Health, East Africa
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2016

Cite this