17 September 2009

Hope for Africa's malaria babies

One third of malaria cases in African infants could be avoided with a simple, safe, affordable tool.

One third of malaria cases in African infants could be avoided with a simple, safe, affordable tool.

The intervention, called Intermittent Preventive Treatment of malaria in Infants (IPTi), uses the drug sulphadoxine-pyrimethamine (SP). It is endorsed by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and can be delivered alongside existing childhood vaccination programmes.

6 million cases could be prevented Results of a meta-analysis of six clinical trials in Africa for IPTi-SP, which appear in the online version of The Lancet today, indicate that if IPTi-SP were expanded in other African countries, 6 million cases of malaria could be prevented each year in those most vulnerable to the disease.

“These results confirm the potential for IPTi using SP, which can be easily and rapidly implemented via existing WHO immunisation programmes, saving tens of thousands of lives every year across Africa,” commented Dr Pedro Alonso, a principal investigator and head of the Secretariat of the IPTi Consortium, associated with University of Barcelona, Spain.

The study analysed results from nearly 8,000 infants in Gabon, Tanzania and Ghana between 1999-2008.

A separate study in Northern Tanzania shows that in areas of very high resistance to the medication, IPTi with SP is not efficacious and alternative anti-malarial drugs are needed. The long-acting medicine mefloquine was seen to reduce the incidence of clinical malaria in infants in the first year of life by 38%. For the long term, it is important that research is accelerated to develop additional drugs for use with IPTi in different settings and in different circumstances, especially in areas where parasite resistance is a problem.

A child lost every 30 seconds
Malaria represents an important public health burden in Africa, disproportionately affecting the youngest and most vulnerable. Of the 247 million cases of malaria worldwide in 2006, 86% occurred in Africa. African infants are most at risk of the worst forms of malaria: the disease claims an African child every 30 seconds. - (IPTi Consortium, September 2009)

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