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Friday, 11 May, 2001, 09:07 GMT 10:07 UK
Tanzania baby malaria halved
Mosquito
Mosquito borne malaria kills a million people a year
By science reporter Corinne Podger

Giving iron supplements and doses of anti-malarial drugs to children under a year old in Tanzania has more than halved the number of cases of severe malaria.

That is the finding of research published in the medical journal The Lancet which studied a World Health Organisation (WHO) immunisation programme distributing the medication.

Up to 300 million people develop malaria each year, and more than two million die, many of them children under five.

In children, a common symptom of severe malaria is life-threatening anaemia - caused when the malaria parasite destroys red blood cells in the body.

Now, a way of reducing the number of children who die from malaria and anaemia may have been found.

Vaccination

An international team of scientists led a study in southern Tanzania - where about half of all malaria hospital admissions and deaths are in children under 12 months.

Working with the WHO's Expanded Program on Immunisation, the researchers gave anti-malarial drugs and iron supplements to more than 700 babies as part of their routine vaccinations.

The number of children who suffered severe malaria fell by almost two thirds, and anaemia rates were halved.

Professor Pedro Alonso of the University of Barcelona, who led the research, says anti-malarial drugs have not been widely used as a preventative measure over fears they might contribute to the problem of drug-resistant malaria.

But he says if the drugs are given as part of a routine vaccination programme, health workers can ensure the correct doses are given - and this could help slow the emergence of drug-resistant malaria parasites.

The WHO is now considering large-scale trials of combining anti-malarial drugs and iron supplements - to see if it might be an effective malaria control strategy across Africa.

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