Giving schoolchildren malaria intermittent preventative treatment (IPT) reduces anaemia and improves attention span, a study in a malaria-prone region of Kenya has found.
The study, published in The Lancet this month (12 July) was carried out in children aged 5–18 years in 30 schools in Bondo district in Kenya's Nyanza province.
Malaria prevalence in the region is high and children are semi-immune to malaria by the time they reach school age. Fifty per cent of children in the area have asymptomatic presence of malaria parasite.
In the study, children were divided into two groups: one given malaria IPT and the other placebo treatment. Treatments were given at four-month intervals over a year.
Each IPT treatment consisted of one sulphadoxine-pyrimethamine dose and three daily doses of amodiaquine. These are common drugs in the market, says Benson Estambale of the Institute of Tropical and Infectious Diseases, University of Nairobi, one of the investigators.
Researchers found that anaemia rates were 6.3 per cent in the IPT group — half the rate of the placebo group. Children on IPT also performed significantly better in concentration tests, and asymptomatic carriage of pathogens (parasitaemia) was markedly reduced.
"We found out that treatment not only reduces anaemia and parasitaemia levels in the body but increases concentration levels of children in schools," Joseph Njagi of the Division of Malaria Control, Ministry of Health, a co-author of the paper, told SciDev.Net.
Estambale says they also trained teachers on how to administer a complete course of IPT to the children, and the government should realise that malaria can be reduced and attention spans raised among schoolchildren without relying on clinicians.
Malaria accounts for 70 per cent of absenteeism in schools in malaria prone areas in Africa and this study will be useful in addressing the issue, he said.
The study follows another conducted in 2001 on pregnant women which established that 2–3 dosages of IPT in the first and last three months of pregnancy reduces anaemia and parasite levels in the placenta and improves birth weight. IPT for pregnant women has since been adopted as a policy by the Kenya government.
Link to full paper in The Lancet*
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The Lancet 372, 127 (2008)