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Study suggests new approach to fighting malaria reduces severe illness and deaths in kids

Researchers conducting a malaria trial in Burkina Faso and Mali found that when children received both seasonal vaccinations and antimalarial drugs, rather than just one intervention, there was a 70 percent drop in hospitalizations and deaths related to the disease, The Guardian reports.

Their study was published Wednesday in The New England Journal of Medicine. Malaria is a mosquito-borne disease, and in 2019, 94 percent of cases and deaths were reported in Africa. The most vulnerable group is children 5 and under — in 2019, they accounted for 67 percent of malaria deaths worldwide, the World Health Organization said.

The trial, led by a team from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, followed 6,000 children between five and 17 months living in Burkina Faso and Mali. The study lasted three years, with the children receiving a malaria vaccine known as RTS,S and four courses of antimalarial medications annually during the time of highest transmission: the rainy season. Researchers found that this combination of a vaccine and antimalarial drugs, compared to just the vaccine, reduced hospitalizations by 70.5 percent and death by 72.9 percent.

Daniel Chandramohan, the study's co-lead author, told The Guardian the results of the trial "were much more successful than we had anticipated. Our work has shown a combination approach using a malarial vaccine seasonally — similar to how countries use influenza vaccine — has the potential to save millions of young lives in the African Sahel. Importantly, we didn't observe any new concerning pattern of side effects."