Current artesunate (ARS) regimens for severe malaria are complex. Once daily intramuscular (i.m.) injection for 3 d would be simpler and more appropriate for remote health facilities than the current WHO-recommended regimen of five intravenous (i.v.) or i.m. injections over 4 d. We compared both a three-dose i.m. and a three-dose i.v. parenteral ARS regimen with the standard five-dose regimen using a non-inferiority design (with non-inferiority margins of 10%).
Methods and Findings
This randomized controlled trial included children (0.5–10 y) with severe malaria at seven sites in five African countries to assess whether the efficacy of simplified three-dose regimens is non-inferior to a five-dose regimen. We randomly allocated 1,047 children to receive a total dose of 12 mg/kg ARS as either a control regimen of five i.m. injections of 2.4 mg/kg (at 0, 12, 24, 48, and 72 h) (n = 348) or three injections of 4 mg/kg (at 0, 24, and 48 h) either i.m. (n = 348) or i.v. (n = 351), both of which were the intervention arms. The primary endpoint was the proportion of children with ≥99% reduction in parasitemia at 24 h from admission values, measured by microscopists who were blinded to the group allocations. Primary analysis was performed on the per-protocol population, which was 96% of the intention-to-treat population. Secondary analyses included an analysis of host and parasite genotypes as risks for prolongation of parasite clearance kinetics, measured every 6 h, and a Kaplan–Meier analysis to compare parasite clearance kinetics between treatment groups. A post hoc analysis was performed for delayed anemia, defined as hemoglobin ≤ 7g/dl 7 d or more after admission.
The per-protocol population was 1,002 children (five-dose i.m.: n = 331; three-dose i.m.: n =338; three-dose i.v.: n = 333); 139 participants were lost to follow-up. In the three-dose i.m. arm, 265/338 (78%) children had a ≥99% reduction in parasitemia at 24 h compared to 263/331 (79%) receiving the five-dose i.m. regimen, showing non-inferiority of the simplified three-dose regimen to the conventional five-dose regimen (95% CI −7, 5; p = 0.02). In the three-dose i.v. arm, 246/333 (74%) children had ≥99% reduction in parasitemia at 24 h; hence, non-inferiority of this regimen to the five-dose control regimen was not shown (95% CI −12, 1; p = 0.24). Delayed parasite clearance was associated with the N86YPfmdr1 genotype. In a post hoc analysis, 192/885 (22%) children developed delayed anemia, an adverse event associated with increased leukocyte counts. There was no observed difference in delayed anemia between treatment arms.
A potential limitation of the study is its open-label design, although the primary outcome measures were assessed in a blinded manner.
A simplified three-dose i.m. regimen for severe malaria in African children is non-inferior to the more complex WHO-recommended regimen. Parenteral ARS is associated with a risk of delayed anemia in African children.