Preventive malaria treatment in African schools dramatically reduces rates of infection and anaemia among children and may also boost learning potential, according to a study released on Friday.
British and Kenyan researchers led by Sian Clarke of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine gave three doses of two antimalarial drugs over eight months to nearly 5 000 children aged between five and 18 in 30 schools in rural Kenya.
The two drugs, sulfadoxine-pyrimethamine and amodiaquine, are usually prescribed as a treatment after a patient has become infected, rather than as a preventive measure. A control group received twin placebos, or a dummy treatment.
The preventive regimen sharply reduced the risk of infection and halved the rate of anaemia, one of the principal symptoms of the disease.
Boosts kids' concentration
The authors say they were also impressed by classroom tests that showed sustained concentration among the treatment cohort, although no specific impact was seen in terms of educational achievement.
"Although it has long been suspected that malaria impairs school performance, this is the first study to provide evidence of a direct link between malaria and reduced attention in class," said co-author Matthew Jukes of Harvard University.
"These results indicate that malaria infection may hinder learning, and its prevention could be important to enhance the educational potential of schoolchildren," he added.
500 million sickened each year
Malaria severely sickens half-a-billion people in the world each year, and kills more than a million, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO).
Ninety percent of victims live in sub-Saharan Africa, and the vast majority of those are infants and children.
Each day, some 3 000 young lives - one every 30 seconds – are snuffed out by the disease, which also saps more than a full percentage point from the annual economic growth of the most affected nations. – (Sapa-AFP)
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