LONDON (AlertNet) - A large scale malaria prevention programme in Mali and Chad has resulted in a "spectacular" drop in the number of new cases of the disease among children during the peak transmission season, Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) said.
The medical charity began pilot projects in July, targeting some 175,000 children aged between three months and five years in the two West African countries where malaria is a leading killer.
Initial results from the so-called seasonal malaria chemoprevention (SMC) have revealed more than a two-thirds drop in the number of simple malaria cases in Mali and up to an 86 percent drop in Chad, MSF said.
"More than half the beds in the pediatric ward of the hospital in which we work in Mali are empty, something we have never seen in prior years during peak malaria season, when bed occupancy was typically over 100 percent," Estrella Lasry, MSF tropical medicine adviser, said in a statement.
The children were given a total of three tablets of amodiaquine and one of sulphadoxine/pyrimethamine over a three day period once a month.
The anti-malarials were administered during peak malaria season with the aim of preventing new cases of the disease among young children who - because of their weaker immunity - are often the most vulnerable to death from malaria.
The pilot projects were launched after the World Health Organization recommended SMC based on research carried out in several countries in Africa's Sahel region that experience high seasonal malaria, MSF said.
Lasry told AlertNet that MSF has teamed up with community health workers to roll out the programme in Koutiala District in southern Mali and in two areas of Moïssala District in Chad. The work also incorporates information about mosquito nets and advice to mothers when their children fall sick.
The hope is to run the programme for a couple of years before handing it over to the respective ministries of health, Lasry said.
"These drugs will prevent malaria with relatively high efficacy - it's not 100 percent - but if the whole course is taken it's around 80 percent of prevention," she said.
"We still need to promote and to use what we have had up until now which are bed nets, spraying, testing and confirming the cases, prompt access to healthcare and all of that, because this alone is not a solution," she added.