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Thursday, 10 August, 2000, 23:51 GMT 00:51 UK
Mothers 'could slash malaria deaths'
African child
Malaria is widespread among some African communities
Training mothers to give antimalarial drugs can reduce malaria deaths in under-five-year olds by 40%, say researchers.

Until now experts have yet to come up with an effective strategy to reduce the high numbers of child deaths from malaria in tropical Africa.

Researchers from Johns Hopkins University School of Hygiene and Public Health, Baltimore, USA, studied whether the answer could be teaching mothers to provide antimalarials to their sick children at home.


Mothers can ably take care of their sick children when supplied with appropriate guidance and drugs

Johns Hopkins University researchers

They tested out their theory in 24 clusters of villages, or tabias, in a region of Ethiopia with particularly high death rates from malaria among children.

The researchers paired tabias with similar death rates. Mothers were taught how to give the drug chloroquine to their children in one tabia, but not in the other.

Childhood death among the under fives was significantly reduced in intervention tabias, with 30 childhood deaths per 1,000 compared with 50 per 1000 for control tabias.

Autopsies

Autopsies revealed that malaria was the possible cause of death in 57% of the children who died in the control tabias, but in only 19% of children from the intervention group.

Writing in The Lancet medical journal, the researchers say: "The much lower under-five mortality in the intervention group shows that although malaria is a major killer in this population mothers can ably take care of their sick children when taught and supplied with appropriate guidance and drugs for home medication.

"It is vital that increased attention be given to what family and community-based efforts can achieve when properly designed and applied in a receptive setting."

However, the researchers warn other communities may not be as discplined, or as used to coping for themselves as those who took part in the study.

Neither may community spirit be as strong elsewhere.

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