JOHNS HOPKINS UNIVERSITY BLOOMBERG SCHOOL OF PUBLIC HEALTH
Large study in sub-Saharan Africa suggests vitamin A's protective effect.
Children under age 5 living in sub-Saharan Africa were 54 percent less likely to develop malaria if they had been given a single large dose of vitamin A, new research led by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health suggests.
The researchers say their findings, published Feb. 3 in the online journal eLife, indicate that vitamin A may protect children against the mosquito-borne malaria parasite, especially if administered under certain conditions, such as during the wet season, when malaria-infected mosquitos are most prevalent.
"More than half of the world's population is at risk of contracting malaria, and the disease is a leading killer of children in some parts of the world, so we urgently need to find better ways to combat it," says study leader Maria-Graciela Hollm-Delgado, MSc, PhD, a postdoctoral fellow in the Department of International Health at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. "Our research found that children who received vitamin A supplementation were less likely to become infected with malaria. Now we need to test vitamin A in a randomized controlled clinical trial to better understand whether this could really be an effective way to prevent this disease."
For their research, Hollm-Delgado and her colleagues analyzed national survey data from four sub-Saharan countries (Burkina Faso, Mozambique, Rwanda and Senegal) on more than 6,100 children between the ages of 6 and 59 months. The researchers were looking for possible links between malaria rates and several types of childhood vaccines as well as vitamin A supplementation. Only vitamin A was found to be protective against the disease.
Malaria is a major public health challenge with more than 7 percent of deaths among children under 5 worldwide attributable to the disease. More than 80 percent of malaria cases occur in sub-Saharan Africa. The disease is most often prevented through the use of mosquito nets around beds. So far, vaccines against the disease have not been very successful. A promising vaccine candidate still under development is only 50 percent effective, Hollm-Delgado says.