Malaria drug effective early when given rectally

HONG KONG (Reuters) - A study has found that the drug artemisinin can clear malaria parasites quickly even when given rectally and researchers urged for its use in emergencies when injectable therapies and trained staff are not available.

Severe forms of malaria can result in death in a matter of hours, so prompt treatment is crucial.

Artemisinin is a compound extracted from the Sweet Wormwood shrub and is regarded by medical experts as the best treatment for malaria. The World Health Organisation recommends that artemisinin be used in combination with other drugs to slow the development of any resistance.

“Artemisinin-based suppositories (given rectally) can help ‘buy time’ for malaria patients who face a delay in accessing effective, injectable antimalarials,” the researchers wrote in an article published in the online open access journal BMC Infectious Diseases.

The study involved 1,162 patients in southeast Asia, Papua New Guinea and Africa. Of these, 786 were given artemisinin rectally, while 236 were injected with the drug. 17 were given artemisinin orally, while 123 were injected with quinine.

Artemisinin cleared parasites more quickly than quinine during the first 24 hours of treatment, the study found.

A single higher dose of rectal artesunate was five times more likely to achieve over 90 percent of parasite reductions within 24 hours than lower rectal doses of the drug.

Quinine, extracted from the bark of the South American cinchona tree and in use for more than 160 years, was regarded as the drug of choice up to the early 2000s, until it was displaced by artemisinin,

Approximately, 40 percent of the world’s population, mostly those living in poor countries, are at risk of malaria. Every year, more than 500 million people become severely ill with malaria.

The WHO describes malaria and HIV/AIDS as two of the most devastating health problems of our time, accounting for 4 million deaths a year.

Reporting by Tan Ee Lyn; Editing by David Fox