’Preventive malaria treatment improves children’s performance at school’

UAntwerp involved in large-scale international research to be published in The Lancet.

School-aged children who are given anti-malaria drugs preventively are only half as likely to catch the disease. And that’s not all: their risk of anaemia decreases by 15%, and their school performance improves. All this has been demonstrated by international research in which the University of Antwerp was also involved.

An elderly couple in Kampenhout, a municipality near Brussels Airport, died from malaria at the beginning of October. Though this mosquito-borne disease is extremely uncommon at this latitude, the World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that it kills 400,000 people every year. High-risk areas include Africa, Central and South America, and South-East Asia. Malaria causes fever, headaches and chills, but also anaemia and organ failure.

Fortunately, drugs that halt the development of the disease have been available for many years. Lariam and Malarone are well-known brands. ‘The WHO advises that these drugs be given to pregnant women, toddlers and pre-schoolers in high-risk areas’, says Prof Jean-Pierre Van geertruyden, who works at the University of Antwerp’s Global Health Institute. ‘However, these recommendations do not extend to school-aged children.’

Less malaria equals less anaemia

A large-scale international study may be able to change that. More than 15,000 schoolchildren between 5 and 15 years old in seven African countries were examined by 33 scientists from 15 universities and research institutes, including UAntwerp and the renowned London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine. The children were given either a preventive medicine, a placebo, or no treatment.

The results are striking. Van geertruyden: ‘Preventive malaria treatment cuts the risk of catching the disease in half, and lowers the incidence of malaria-induced anaemia by 15%. Children aged 10 and over who are given this treatment do significantly better at school as well. Another research project carried out by UAntwerp also shows that school children are the ‘drivers’ behind the number of malaria infections in the population.’

Treatment combined with mosquito nets

According to Van geertruyden and his colleagues, these studies show that health campaigns involving preventive malaria treatments can have very positive effects. ‘This approach, combined with the use of mosquito nets and the introduction of the malaria vaccine - which is currently being tested - could ultimately help eradicate this disease.’

The results of the study will be published in the renowned scientific journal The Lancet Global Health on 22 October.

Link: www.thelancet.com/jo­urnals/langlo/article/PIIS2214-109X(20)30325-9/fulltext

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