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Health

Antibiotics Can Dramatically Reduce Infant Deaths in Africa, Study Shows

Administering antibiotics in Africa could drastically reduce the number of deaths among infants in poor countries, according to a new study funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

The study is referred to as the Mordor trial and it was published in the New England Journal of Medicine on Wednesday.

Its research involved 190,238 children under the age of 5 across 1,500 villages in Malawi, Niger and Tanzania.

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For the study, children were given one dose of azithromycin or a placebo every six months for two years.

Azithromycin is an antibiotic that kills malaria parasites, as well as many types of bacteria that cause pneumonia and diarrhea, according to the New York Times.

The study shows that there were 14% fewer deaths in children receiving the antibiotic overall, with the highest reduction in Niger.

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The trial also seemed to work best in infants up to 5 months old — in this age group, one in four deaths were averted thanks to the antibiotic.

The results from this study are so remarkable that the World Health Organization (WHO) is now considering the recommendation of giving antibiotics to newborns, according to the New York Times.

“Our independent expert panel says this holds a lot of promise,” Dr. Per Ashorn, a maternal and child health expert from the WHO, told the New York Times. “But we will review it with very rigorous procedures.”

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An increase in antibiotics could potentially speed up antimicrobial resistance, meaning that people could develop immunity to antibiotics that the world relies on to treat common illnesses.

But the study’s researchers contend that it’s a small risk to take when compared to the live-saving results this study has seen.

“At one time, people said you couldn’t give out HIV drugs in Africa because it would create drug resistance,” Dr. Thomas M. Lietman, the study’s lead author, told the New York Times. “That implied that we should just let Africans die so we could keep giving out the drugs in the U.S.”

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Nearly 35 million children live in the countries that would likely be targeted, according to Dr. Rasa Izadnegahdar, deputy director of global health at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

These are countries where children have a one in 10 chance of dying before the age of 5.

Izadnegahdar told the New York Times that the foundation “is optimistic that this will be a new tool to help prevent childhood mortality.”

The study’s Lord of the Rings nickname, Mordor, is a sort of acronym for its title: Mortality Reduction Through Oral Azithromycin. (In French, it is called: Macrolides Oraux pour Réduire les Décès avec un Oeil sur la Résistance.)

Global Citizen campaigns on the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, including SDG 3 on ensuring health for all, knowing that good health is key to ending extreme poverty by 2030. You can take action here.