A new, cherry-flavoured anti-malaria pill works as well as current treatments, is easy for children to swallow and could save lives.
The tablet is not as bitter as current drugs and does not need to be crushed before eating, making it easier for children where the disease is endemic to stick to treatment, they said.
"The dispersible formulation is easy to administer, gives compliance and effective treatment; and hence facilitates adoption in malaria control programs," Salim Abdulla of the Ifakara Health Institute in Tanzania and colleagues wrote in The Lancet medical journal.
Malaria killed nearly 900 000 in 2006The disease has become resistant to some drugs and work on a vaccine has been slow. One effective treatment is Novartis AG's Coartem.
The World Health Organisation estimates malaria killed 881 000 people and infected 247 million people worldwide in 2006, the latest year for which figures were available. Some malaria experts say those numbers underestimate the problem.
The problem with current drugs is that many young children cannot swallow whole tablets and crushing them can weaken the medicine. The crushed pills also taste bitter when mixed with water, the researchers said.
In the study of 899 children, about half received the new cherry-flavoured pill and the others were given crushed Coartem. Both contained the same amount of medicine.
The researchers found that the cure rate and vomiting - the most common problem - were about the same in both groups after 28 days.
Coartem, made up of artemether and lumefantrine, is the most widely used anti-malaria medicine in Africa and finding a formulation that is easy for children to take is vital, other researchers said.
"From a public health perspective the results will have consequences for current clinical practice," Awash Teklehaimanot of Columbia University in New York and Haily Desta Teklehaimanot at the Centre for National Health Development in Ethiopia wrote in a Lancet commentary.
"The use of dispersible tablets will potentially enhance and promote better treatment outcomes, and delay the development of drug resistance at the same time." - (Reuters Health)