September 3, 2009

Treated bed nets cut infant malaria deaths

A U.S. study has found the use of insecticide-treated bed nets can substantially reduce the number of malaria-caused infant deaths.

Researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill said such treated bed nets were given to nearly 18,000 mothers at prenatal clinics in Democratic Republic of Congo. The study determined the nets prevented an estimated 414 infant deaths from malaria. In addition, the researchers said, the intervention prevented an estimated 587 low birth weight deliveries.

This is an extremely cost-effective intervention, said Dr. Sylvia Becker-Dreps, an assistant professor of family medicine and the study's lead author. In fact, it approaches the cost effectiveness of measles vaccination and is far more cost effective than prevention measures that are routine in the U.S.

Malaria, transmitted to humans by mosquitoes, is common among pregnant women in sub-Saharan Africa and is a major contributing factor to low birth weights and infant deaths in that region.

The goal of this study, Becker-Dreps said, was to find out the costs and impact of giving bed nets to pregnant women in prenatal clinics before their babies were born. The pregnant women could then use the bed nets during their pregnancies to reduce preterm deliveries and then use it to protect their young infants after birth.

The research appears in the American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene.