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Drug could cut Africa’s child malaria deaths by a quarter

A treatment that could cut the number of children dying from Malaria by nearly a quarter is not being used on a widespread basis.

The biggest ever study into child malaria treatment found that the Chinese drug, artesunate is far better than the commonly used drug, quinine at treating it. But doctors across the world just aren’t prescribing it.

Artesunate cut child deaths by 22.5 per cent, revealed the trial, published in medical journal, The Lancet. So hundreds of thousands of children could be saved if artesunate rather than quinine was the first line malaria treatment, argued the study.

Malaria is a major cause of death for African children and one of the main reasons why children across sub-Saharan Africa end up in hospital. And about one in six children sent to hospital there with malaria will die. Even though it is the standard treatment for children with severe malaria, quinine comes with its problems and can cause several side effects.

But medics are wary of using artesunate because it isn’t made by a well-known western drug company, said Prof Nick White, who ran the study.

Only a week ago the World Health Organisation (WHO), finally gave the drug, made by China’s Guilin pharmaceutical company, safety approval.

Nevertheless changing medics’ habits may still be difficult said Prof White: "We need to overcome all sorts of things like prejudice and sloth. British physicians still think quinine is better. It is nuts – absolutely nuts." And this reluctance by British doctors may make African doctors reluctant too, he added.

The organisation will soon be updating its guidelines on malaria treatment soon and with Prof White’s involvement looks set to recommend a switch to artesunate. That needs to happen as fast as possible, Prof White said: "Name any other infectious disease where a drug has been shown to be that much better," he says.

British scientist Sir Mark Walport, from the Wellcome Trust which funded the study said: “This is an extremely important clinical trial of the treatment of malaria, showing improved survival of patients with severe malaria in Africa. There are still many hurdles to overcome and we must be vigilant to protect against resistance to these new drugs and against a market in counterfeit drugs. But Prof White and colleagues have shown that we have the potential to save the lives of hundreds of thousands of children.

Hayley attribution