News / Health

Trial: Malaria Chemoprevention Protects Children

A girl waits at Bossangoa hospital, where medics are treating a high number of children for malaria, malnutrition, anaemia and violence-related injuries inlcuding gunshot wounds, Nov. 9, 2013 (Hanna McNeish for VOA.)
A girl waits at Bossangoa hospital, where medics are treating a high number of children for malaria, malnutrition, anaemia and violence-related injuries inlcuding gunshot wounds, Nov. 9, 2013 (Hanna McNeish for VOA.)
Jessica Berman
The non-governmental organization Doctors Without Borders, or Medecins Sans Frontieres, has launched a new, malaria prevention campaign in several countries in sub-Saharan Africa aimed at protecting the illnesses' most vulnerable population - children under the age of five.  During the campaigns at the height of malaria season - from July to October - young children will be offered so-called chemoprevention drugs.  
Small children are at highest risk of dying from malaria, a mosquito-borne parasitic illness that claimed the lives of some three-quarters of a million people in 2012, most of them children and babies in sub-Saharan Africa.  
Malaria

-About 3.3 billion people, half the world's population, are at risk of malaria
-People living in the poorest sub-tropical and tropical countries are the most susceptible
-Caused by mosquito-borne parasite
-Killed 627,000 people in 2012, mostly African children
-Kills by restricting blood flow to vital organs
-Symptoms include fever, headache and vomiting

Source: WHO
Doctors Without Borders, or MSF, is planning to roll out mass seasonal malaria chemoprevention campaigns, known as SMCs, in the Sahel sub-region to prevent new cases of the disease in countries where malaria is widespread.  These nations include Senegal, Gambia, Niger, Burkino Faso and Mali.

In a 2013 SMC trial in Niger, the organization treated more than 200,000 children between the ages of three and 59 months with chemoprevention drugs.

Trials of the chemoprevention strategy in the last two years have shown a reduction of up to 83 percent in simple malaria cases; there's a similar percentage reduction in the number of cases of severe malaria.

Estrella Lasry, tropical medicine adviser for the group, says the campaign was launched at the urging of the World Health Organization.
Malaria mortality rates, by age groups, 2000-2012Malaria mortality rates, by age groups, 2000-2012
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Malaria mortality rates, by age groups, 2000-2012
Malaria mortality rates, by age groups, 2000-2012
"And what we do is we give drugs once a month that protect and they protect the children for about a month during those four months of high transmission," said Lasry.

In Niger, during a trial in 2013, the anti-malaria compounds were made available in remote locations at health facilities, in the homes of village chiefs and in areas where public health workers go door-to-door.

The organization deployed some 2,000 community health care workers to educate families about the benefits of chemoprevention and to encourage them to take their children to a distribution site.

Lasry says MSF chemoprevention campaigns do not use artemisinin-based drugs that are currently the "gold standard" to treat malaria infection.

"We try to use different drugs so that even if we can potentially cause resistance, we are not causing resistance to the most effective drugs we have for treatment," she said.

If they find malaria in any of the children, Lasry says they treat it.  But she says there's a shortage of rapid diagnostic tests in Niger, for example, hampering efforts to treat malaria in endemic regions.

While not a "miracle cure," officials say prevention drugs complement other malaria control strategies, including insecticide-treated bed nets.

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