Every minute, a child dies from malaria in Africa and with malaria parasites resistant to traditional treatments, a new finding by a researcher from Papua New Guinea - where malaria is also a serious concern - is good news.
Dr Moses Laman, who has been undertaking a PhD at The University of Western Australia, is the lead author of a study published in the prestigious journal PLoS Medicine. The study - which is the main topic of his thesis - outlines an important clinical trial of a new combination treatment for malaria.
Dr Laman said since malaria parasites developed resistance to chloroquine years ago, the race had been on to find new ways of beating the disease. Combination treatments using artemisinin (originally extracted from the wormwood plant) or its derivatives and longer-acting chloroquine-like drugs such as piperaquine or lumefantrine had been found to be effective but not 100 per cent so.
Dr Laman said in PNG and in many other countries there were different types of malaria, which further complicated treatment regimes. The most dangerous form was falciparum while the least dangerous was vivax. Both affected children, who bore the brunt of the disease.
Dr Laman said he and his colleagues, including his supervisor Professor Tim Davis, decided to test the efficacy of the currently recommended treatment, artemether-lumefantrine, against that of the novel combination artemisinin-naphthoquine. They recruited 250 PNG children aged from six months to five years who had fevers related to one or other kinds of malaria but did not have serious symptoms.
Half of the children were given artemisinin-naphthoquine, but the researchers ignored the manufacturer's guidelines which suggested using it in a single one-day dose and instead gave it over three days as recommended by WHO, while closely monitoring the children's health and following up on their progress six months later.
They found that artemisinin-naphthoquine over three days was not only safe but was a far better treatment than artemether-lumefantrine for vivax malaria, with 100 per cent of the children free of infection after treatment. The researchers also found it was as good as artemether-lumefantrine for the potentially deadly falciparum malaria.
Dr Laman was supported by an Australia Awards scholarship and the trial was funded through an NHMRC project grant.
"Dr Laman has an impressive CV (including a Third World Academy of Science young affiliate award) and his work is an excellent example of a longstanding and productive collaboration between UWA School of Medicine and Pharmacology and the PNG Institute of Medical Research," Professor Davis said.
Dr Moses Laman (UWA School of Medicine and Pharmacology, Fremantle Unit) (+61 4) 98 648 430
Professor Tim Davis (Head, UWA School of Medicine and Pharmacology, Fremantle Unit) (+61 8) 9431 3229
David Stacey (UWA Media and Public Affairs Manager) (+61 8) 6488 3229 / (+61 4) 32 637 716