Researchers at University of Queensland (Australia) have found that antiretroviral HIV drugs known as protease inhibitors stopped the parasite that causes malaria from growing. Moreover, the drugs also worked on strains of the parasite that had developed resistance to common malaria drugs.

Malaria kills over 1,000,000 people worldwide each year with the heaviest toll among pregnant women and children under five. Despite more effective drugs and better mosquito nets, the problem is not getting any better due to bureaucratic delays and health system breakdowns in sub-Saharan Africa where 90% of the cases occur. Mosquitoes also develop resistance to every insecticide including DDT.

These latest tests, however, may be quite significant since the area of Africa most affected by malaria is also the area with the highest HIV rate. Studies have shown that people with HIV are twice as likely to catch malaria as those without the virus.

In addition, five of seven protease inhibitors were able to kill malaria parasites grown in the lab as well as in malaria-infected mice. The best results were obtained using combinations of ritonavir and saquinavir or lopinavir.  
Finally, the protease inhibitors were effective even against strains of the malarial parasite that had already developed resistance to common malaria drugs.

While the drugs are expensive and not without some serious side-effects, they may prove especially helpful to patients suffering from both HIV and malaria. They may also lead to the development of new treatments for malaria itself. Tests must also be done to see if other classes of anti-HIV drugs produce the same or similar results.

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