By Ed Harris
PORT LOUIS, March 11 (Reuters) - A Chinese herbal medicine has slashed malaria cases on Comoros' tiny Moheli island, to less than 2 percent of the population from 23 percent last year, Chinese researchers said on Tuesday.
A four-tablet treatment given to all of Moheli's 40,000 people in November killed the malaria parasite in most of the island's population, said May Lee, project team leader for China's Guangzhou University of Traditional Medicine.
"Sixty days after our project started, the parasite carriage rate was around 1.4 percent," she said from Moheli, the smallest of the Indian Ocean archipelago's three islands.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) said it needed more data on the drug, which Lee said was Artequick, a new herbal formula based on the shrub Artemisia.
"We will try to see what are the long-term adverse effects of this drug, which is not internationally scientifically proven," said the WHO's country representative Yao Kassankogno.
Moheli Health Minister Bouchrati Abdoulhalim said the hospital in the island's capital had no current malaria cases.
"People are suffering from other things, but not malaria," she said. "(Malaria) was a big problem before."
Malaria claims more than one million lives per year and kills a child every 30 seconds -- mainly African children under the age of five. The parasitic disease is spread by mosquitoes.
Killing the disease in the entire population at once makes it difficult for malaria to spread since mosquitoes carry the disease from one person to another, health officials say.
Keeping malaria low on Moheli may be complicated by population movement that could spread the parasites to the island once again, the WHO warned.
Located off the east coast of Africa, the tropical archipelago of Comoros has a population of 700,000, whose key sources of income are remittances, farming, and fishing. (For full Reuters Africa coverage and to have your say on the top issues, visit: africa.reuters.com/ ) (Editing by Catherine Evans)