Combining anti-AIDS drugs, an antibiotic and bed nets treated with insecticide could cut the rate of malaria infections in people infected with HIV by up to 95 percent, researchers said on Friday.
Malaria and HIV are leading infections in sub-Saharan Africa. In adults and children with HIV, malaria is more common and can be more severe.
“Our study was able to show that with the implementation of a few interventions the incidence of malaria can be dropped considerably,” Dr Jonathan Mermin, of the Uganda Virus Research Institute in Entebbe, Uganda, said in an interview.
The researchers found that antiretroviral drugs, the antibiotic co-trimoxazole and bed nets are each effective in combating malaria in HIV patients but when combined their impact is cumulative.
Malaria, a parasitic disease transmitted by mosquitoes, kills more than a million people a year, mostly young children in Africa.
HIV weakens the patient’s immune system making it more vulnerable to opportunistic infections such as malaria and AIDS.
Mermin and his team studied the impact of individual and combined treatments for malaria in about 1,000 HIV positive people in Uganda.
Co-trimoxazole, which is a standard treatment worldwide for patients infected with HIV, reduced the incidence of malaria in the patients by 76 percent. When combined with anti-AIDS drugs it hit 92 percent and cut cases by up to 95 percent when the bed nets were included.
The researchers, who reported the findings in The Lancet medical journal, believe the impact of the anti-AIDS drugs was due to its effect in strengthening the immune system rather than any direct effect of the drugs on the malaria parasite.
“Although these interventions work separately, the prime message is that together they are associated with a 95 percent reduction in malaria,” said Mermin.
“Malaria then becomes a rare event among this population whereas before the interventions it was quite common,” he added.
Most malaria deaths occur in Africa where the disease kills a child every 30 seconds, according to the World Health Organization.
More than 40 million people worldwide are living with HIV/AIDS. The majority, more than 25 million, are in sub-Saharan Africa. In 2005 about 2.4 million people in the region died from HIV/AIDS, according to the UNAIDS, which is leading the global battle against the illness.
Revision date: June 11, 2011
Last revised: by Sebastian Scheller, MD, ScD