Providing African pupils with antimalarial drugs, insecticide-treated bed nets and education about preventing the mosquito-borne disease may also protect them against anaemia and boost their performance at school, researchers said on Wednesday.
Children in Mali who benefited from these three measures from their teachers were 95 percent less likely to be infected with malaria parasites and 44 percent less at risk of being anaemic than those who only received bed nets, according to the study.
The pupils’ ability to pay attention for longer also improved, found the research, conducted by Save the Children, the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine (LSHTM), and the National Institute for Public Health Research in Mali.
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While malaria kills thousands of young African children each year, many others harbour the parasites that cause the disease without displaying symptoms.
These infections frequently go unrecognised and untreated, leading to anaemia, which can cause tiredness and affect children’s cognitive and physical development.
“This low-cost three-pronged approach delivered through schools had significant health benefits and could potentially improve educational performance,” Sian Clarke, lead researcher of the study and LSTHM senior lecturer, said in a statement.
The study showed these benefits lasted until the beginning of the next malaria transmission season, suggesting a single annual dose of antimalarial drugs could help protect children from anaemia during the entire school year, she added.
By reducing the number of malaria parasites in pupils, this approach could also help to cut infections in their communities, according to the researchers, who said malaria control strategies should be a formal part of education health plans.
Preventing anaemia in schoolgirls is particularly important in countries such as Mali because teenage marriage and pregnancy is so common, said Natalie Roschnik, senior nutrition advisor at Save the Children and study co-author.
“A girl who is anaemic when pregnant is more likely to have a low birth weight child with developmental delays and is at greater risk of dying too,” Roschnik said as the study was published in the London-based medical journal BMJ Global Health.
The world has made huge strides against malaria since 2000, with death rates plunging by 60 percent and at least six million lives saved globally, the World Health Organization (WHO) says.
But efforts to end one of the world’s deadliest diseases – which kills about 430,000 people a year, mostly children in sub-Saharan Africa – are under threat as mosquitoes become increasingly resistant to measures such as bed nets and drugs.