Hydroxyurea treatment is recommended for children with sickle cell anemia (SCA) living in high-resource malaria-free regions, but its safety and efficacy in malaria-endemic sub-Saharan Africa, where the greatest sickle-cell burden exists, remain unknown. In vitro studies suggest hydroxyurea could increase malaria severity, and hydroxyurea-associated neutropenia could worsen infections. NOHARM (Novel use Of Hydroxyurea in an African Region with Malaria) was a randomized, double-blinded, placebo-controlled trial conducted in malaria-endemic Uganda, comparing hydroxyurea to placebo at 20 ± 2.5 mg/kg per day for 12 months. The primary outcome was incidence of clinical malaria. Secondary outcomes included SCA-related adverse events (AEs), clinical and laboratory effects, and hematological toxicities. Children received either hydroxyurea (N = 104) or placebo (N = 103). Malaria incidence did not differ between children on hydroxyurea (0.05 episodes per child per year; 95% confidence interval [0.02, 0.13]) vs placebo (0.07 episodes per child per year [0.03, 0.16]); the hydroxyurea/placebo malaria incidence rate ratio was 0.7 ([0.2, 2.7]; P = .61). Time to infection also did not differ significantly between treatment arms. A composite SCA-related clinical outcome (vaso-occlusive painful crisis, dactylitis, acute chest syndrome, splenic sequestration, or blood transfusion) was less frequent with hydroxyurea (45%) than placebo (69%; P = .001). Children receiving hydroxyurea had significantly increased hemoglobin concentration and fetal hemoglobin, with decreased leukocytes and reticulocytes. Serious AEs, sepsis episodes, and dose-limiting toxicities were similar between treatment arms. Three deaths occurred (2 hydroxyurea, 1 placebo, and none from malaria). Hydroxyurea treatment appears safe for children with SCA living in malaria-endemic sub-Saharan Africa, without increased severe malaria, infections, or AEs. Hydroxyurea provides SCA-related laboratory and clinical efficacy, but optimal dosing and monitoring regimens for Africa remain undefined.
Bibliographical noteFunding Information:
This work was supported by a grant from the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation (ICRA 2013139), and Cincinnati Children’s Research Foundation provided financial support for the NOHARM Data Coordinating Center.