Study shows artemisinin combination therapies increase malaria protection

Scientists recently completed a comparison of four different artemisinin-based anti-malaria combination therapies in seven African countries to find one that appeared particularly promising for regions where the risk of infection is high.

Artemisinin, which is derived from a Chinese herb, has become the leading treatment available against malaria. In order to keep malaria from becoming resistant, the World Health Organization has recommended that artemisinin be combined with other anti-malarials. Finding the most effective combination possible, however, has remained elusive.

Scientists from the Institute of Tropical Medicine, who also participated in recent trials for an effective malaria vaccine, compared ACT treatments in more than 4,000 children under the age of five with uncomplicated malaria in a random trial located in seven sub-Saharan countries. The study was the largest ACT trial ever conducted in Africa.

Three of the tested therapies showed excellent and similar results in fending off a malaria attack. Of the three, however, treatment with the combination dihydroartemisinin-piperaquine, recently recommended by the WHO, resulted in significantly fewer number of recurrent infections.

The scientists noted that disease resistance still needs to be monitored. The WHO advised that various regions in Africa choose an ACT therapy based on local levels of resistance to non-artemisinin medicine in a given combination. Data on such resistance, however, remains scarce.