A study conducted recently by the Cochrane Infectious Disease Group in South Africa and Tanzania found that intermittent preventive antimalarial treatment (IPT) in anemic children did not lessen the chance that they would contact malaria.
Researchers hypothesized that regularly administering antimalarial drugs to anemic children would protect the children from infection by the parasite that causes malaria while cutting down on the number of anemia cases. They also believed that IPT would enable the children to recover from anemia and malaria faster while developing stronger immune systems against other infections.
The six randomized controlled trials included 3,847 subjects. Three of the trials took place in areas with low malaria cases; the other three occurred in areas with high malaria rates.
Certain trials included iron supplements to treat the anemia while taking the antimalarial drugs. All of the trials included a control group that received a placebo and a test group that received IPT.
The researchers discovered that the number of children who were hospitalized or who died was similar no matter whether the children received the placebo or the IPT. The children who received the IPT had only slightly higher average hemoglobin levels compared to the placebo group.
Iron supplements also did not seem to make a notable difference.
There are many causes of anemia, but statistically malaria is more common in areas with high anemia rates.
Children 5 years old or younger in Southeast Asia and Africa are most commonly diagnosed with anemia. Health professionals hope that reducing the rates of anemia will reduce the rates of malaria cases.
"While we did note small benefits in hemoglobin levels when treating anaemic children with IPT, there was no detectable effect on the number of deaths or hospital admissions,” Mwaka Athuman, a researcher from Ifakara Health Institute in Tanzania, said. “However three of the trials were carried out in areas where malaria transmission was low, so any estimate of the protective effect of IPT would be expected to be modest. The summary of the evidence will assist people forming policy guidance as to whether IPT is worthwhile and provide a basis for researchers to consider whether additional studies are needed."