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A group of Chinese researchers say we already have the weapon to defeat malaria but it is being used in the wrong way, writes David Lague in the International Herald Tribune.

The team want to trial giving artemisinin combined with another drug as a mass treatment to 40,000 people on Moheli Island off the east coast of Africa, where the disease is endemic.

They say giving everyone two doses of the drugs, 40 days apart — rather than the current practice of dispensing them numerous times a year — would clear the parasite from human and mosquito populations for an extended period.

The therapy would knock the parasite out of the human population and in the meantime, all malaria-carrying mosquitoes would die, as their lifespan is only 30 days.

Since the malaria parasite only lives in people and female mosquitoes, they say that this would dramatically reduce transmission of the parasite, which could eventually be controlled at a low level.

Some think this is a risky plan: simultaneous mass treatment, without the means to control malaria-carrying mosquitoes, could increase resistance to artemisinin.

However, the World Health Organization has offered support to the Chinese government-funded project, and earlier work in Cambodia yielded encouraging results.

The trial could begin within three months. 

Link to full article in the International Herald Tribune