The World Health Organization has amended its recommendation for malaria treatment, saying that artemisinin is preferred to quinine in treating severe cases among children, a WHO official said Thursday.
"Intravenous artesunate should be used in preference to quinine for the treatment of severe P. falciparum malaria in children," said the UN health agency.
The recommendation promoting artemisinin use has been in place for adults since 2006, but was only amended for children this week, just ahead of the coming Monday's World Malaria Day.
This is because, "before, we have no evidence to recommend that artesunate should be used instead of quinine," said Peter Olumese, a WHO doctor.
"Now we have that evidence from studies in eight African countries. That's why we make this recommendation," he said, noting that 5,425 children under 15 years of age had been tested.
The studies had demonstrated that the mortality rates of children treated with artesunate was 22.5 percent lower than those who used quinine.
Artemisinin is also easier to administer. It can be given in just four minutes, through an intravenous or intramuscular injection, while quinine has to be administered three times a day through a slow intravenous drip that takes four hours.
Medecins sans Frontieres called on "African governments to put in place WHO recommendations... and to drop less efficient quinine-based treatments."
But the NGO also urged the UN health agency to help concerned countries make the necessary changes, saying that it would be otherwise difficult to reach UN targets of eradicating malaria fatalities by 2015.
According to the WHO, the anti-malaria campaign has led to a drop in fatalities from a million in 2000 to 781,000 in 2009.