A new drug is demonstrating impressive results in the fight against malaria, according to a forthcoming paper in the open access journal PLoS Medicine. The study of a malaria control program in South Africa shows how hospital admissions for malaria were dramatically reduced following the introduction of an antimalarial combination called artemether-lumefantrine (AL) and the partial reintroduction of the insecticide DDT. The malaria epidemic has been particularly resurgent in recent years as the parasites transmitting the disease have developed resistance to many of the existing drugs. Approximately a million people are killed by malaria every year, predominantly in Africa. KwaZulu-Natal was the first Ministry of Health in Africa to introduce an artemisinin-based combination therapy (ACT) malaria treatment policy.
Caption: Mosquito control and ACT are both likely contributors to the reduction of malaria in KwaZulu¡VNatal. (Photo: Karen Barnes and Atis Muelenbachs)
Karen Barnes and colleagues describe and evaluate the new measures against malaria put in place in the KwaZulu-Natal province, where cases had risen fifteen-fold during the 1990s. AL was introduced to the area in 2000 alongside an intensified effort to control mosquitoes with insecticides. Reviewing data from four health care facilities representative of the province, the researchers found that admissions for malaria had declined by 89% in the year following the changes. By 2003 the decline in malaria had been sustained throughout the province: outpatient cases fell by 99% and malaria-related deaths had decreased by 97%.
The authors are keen to stress the vital importance of a health care infrastructure that can deliver prompt diagnosis, as well as perceptions within the community that treatment for malaria should be sought urgently and completed at public-health care facilities. These favourable factors combined with better control of mosquitoes, including the use of DDT for reed and mud homesteads, maximized the benefits of AL treatment in Africa. It makes KwaZulu-Natal an encouraging example of how to combat malaria following its dramatic and deadly increase.
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