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Tuesday 25th October 2016

African study finds malaria clue

15th May 2007

Researchers in Gabon have found a clue which may help predict which malaria patients will go on to develop cerebral malaria, which is often fatal.


However, experts warned that better diagnostic tests would still not replace prompt medical care in malaria patients.

The mosquito-borne malaria parasite, Plasmodium falciparum, affects different people in different ways.

Cerebral malaria is the most severe form of the disease, in which patients suffer coma and convulsions. Around half of patients who develop this form of the disease will die.

The study was led by Maryvonne Kombila of the University of Health Sciences in Gabon. It looked at 350 children under the age of five admitted to hospital for malaria between 1996 and 1999.

Kombila's team, together with the Pasteur Institute and the National Centre for Scientific Research in France, found antibodies to a specific protein in the blood of 90% of the children who developed cerebral malaria.

A test predicting susceptibility to cerebral malaria would greatly improve patient care on admission, according to Sylviane Pied, of the malaria immunophysiology group at the Pasteur Institute.

The children were admitted to two hospitals in Gabon during that period suffering from various forms of the disease.

Further studies are needed to see if the antibody is caused by cerebral malaria, or helps to cause it.

Blaise Ayivi, head of paediatrics at the academic hospital at the University of Cotonou in Bénin ―- a high-risk malaria region ―- welcomed the research as having immediate practical interest for clinicians.

But experts warned that the test would only improve care if early medical attention was sought for malaria patients.

Alexandre Hountondji, of the Bénin Public Health Department said early care was crucial. In Benin and a number of other West African countries, many children are only brought to hospitals in the last stages of cerebral malaria.

The research was published in the Public Library of Science online journal PLoS One on April 25.

Last month, Africa’s health ministers, under the leadership of the African Union, approved the continent’s first overarching health strategy for the years 2007 to 2015. World Health Organisation (WHO) Director General Margaret Chan commented that the strategy "emphasizes the need to revitalize the primary health care approach, and calls for a minimum package of core interventions that can be made available to all."

Approximately, 40% of the world’s population, mostly those living in the world’s poorest countries, are at risk of malaria. Every year, more than 500 million people become severely ill with malaria. Most cases and deaths are in sub-Saharan Africa. However, Asia, Latin America, the Middle East and parts of Europe are also affected.

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