New studies confirm that giving anti-malaria drugs to children who are already sleeping under insecticide-treated bed nets provides additional protection in helping control the disease.
Smallpox was conquered with a single vaccine. The fight against malaria seems to require an assortment of tools, from land drainage to insecticide-treated bed nets.
One of the newer approaches is called Intermittent Preventive Treatment, or IPT, which involves giving anti-malaria medication once a month or so to people living where malaria is endemic, regardless of whether they are infected or not.
Some studies have already shown IPT to be effective in children and pregnant mothers. The latest studies try to answer the question of whether the treatment would give additional protection to children sleeping under insecticide-treated bed nets.
"So the idea was to try and find out whether intermittent preventive treatment can really reduce incidence of malaria, whether it has any additional benefit," said Diadier Diallo of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. He led a study of IPT effectiveness in Burkina Faso.
Diallo says there was a very significant reduction in malaria infection when the malaria drugs were used in combination with bed nets, compared with bed nets alone.
"What we found is, the burden of malaria was reduced by 70 percent in these children."
In a similar study conducted in Mali, combining the intermittent drug therapy with the bed nets was even more effective.
Both studies are published in the journal PloS Medicine, as was a separate article by a team of malaria experts discussing the findings. The experts, led by James Beeson of the Hall Institute of Medical Research in Australia, support expanding intermittent preventive malaria treatment of children, but they caution that more research is needed to nail down the specifics.
The World Health Organization estimates that almost 800,000 people died from malaria in 2009, about a 20 percent decrease since 2000. Anti-malaria programs are having an effect, but periodic resurgences illustrate what the WHO calls the "fragility" of the effort to control the disease.