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Major advance in the treatment of severe malaria in our region

A drug derived from an ancient Chinese herb has been shown to reduce the risk of death from severe malaria by a third, potentially saving hundreds of thousands of lives in nations on our doorstep.

A trial in malaria patients from four countries has shown a clear benefit over standard treatment with quinine, says Professor Nicholas Anstey of the Menzies School of Health Research in Darwin, Australia, which participated in the trial in partnership with the Indonesian Ministry of Health.

The regional collaboration between the Indonesian Ministry of Health and Darwin's Menzies School of Health Research has a joint research facility in Timika in Papua province, eastern Indonesia. Hospitals in Bangladesh, Myanmar (Burma), and India also participated in the study, which was coordinated by the Wellcome Trust Unit in Bangkok, Thailand.

The results of the trial are reported in the latest edition of the international medical journal, Lancet, which is published today.

Quinine has been the standard drug for the treatment of severe malaria in most countries, Professor Anstey said. This new trial clearly shows that artesunate, derived from sweet wormwood, or Artemisia annua, has fewer side effects and is more effective than quinine in preventing death in adults with severe malaria.

In total, 1461 patients with severe malaria were treated with either quinine or artesunate. Of these, 20% were enrolled at the Indonesian Ministry of Health/Menzies field site in Papua province.

There were a third fewer deaths among those receiving artesunate: 15% of seriously ill patients died compared to 22% of those treated with quinine.

"Falciparum malaria, the most severe form of the infection, is a major cause of death in our region. At least 120 million cases of falciparum malaria occur in South East Asia each year," Professor Anstey said.

"The reduction in mortality from severe malaria associated with artesunate therapy is excell
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Contact: Alison Ellis
Alison.Ellis@menzies.edu.au
61-889-228-989
Research Australia
26-Aug-2005


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