Objective: To assess whether chloroquine (CQ) still is an appropriate first-line drug for the treatment of uncomplicated falciparum malaria in Ghana and whether sulphadoxine/pyrimethamine (SP) could be a good alternative.
Method: The parasitological, clinical and haematological responses to CQ and SP were studied in children < 5 years of age according to a modified WHO 28-day in vivo protocol. A total of 142 children attending the outpatients department meeting the inclusion criteria were randomly assigned to the CQ (n=72) or SP (n=70) group.
Results: In the CQ group, 15 children (20.8%) exhibited early clinical failure (within 3 days) compared with only 1 (1.4%) in the SP group (P < 0.01). The clinical failure rate before day 14 (early treatment failure plus late treatment failure before day 14) also showed a marked advantage in favour of the SP group (1.4 against 29.2%). The median time to clinical failure was 11.5 days in the CQ group and 26 days in the SP group (P < 0.01). Of the 72 children treated with CQ, 9 (12.5%) had RIII resistance and 19 (26.4%) had RII resistance. A total of 36 (50.0%) were sensitive to CQ. From the 70 children treated with SP, none had RIII or RII resistance. There was no difference in haematological response between the two treatment groups.
Conclusion: Although there is little concordance on when to change treatment policy, the high resistance to CQ in this study supports the change to another first-line drug for children under 5 years of age. SP seems to be a good alternative, although a high RII and RIII resistance against this drug has already been reported in the coastal zones of Ghana.