The study led by Kenyan and British researchers revealed malaria treatment, given once per term, significantly diminished infection and anaemia risk and enhanced cognitive ability of school children.
Though school based health programs helped in fighting diseases, such as worm infections, but less is known about their role in tackling malaria.
During the study, the team analysed the impact of IPT, a new method of tackling malaria, involving treatment with an anti-malarial drug irrespective of whether children are infected.
In a randomised placebo-controlled trial in 30 primary schools in a rural area of high malaria transmission in western Kenya, 4916 children, between 5-18 years were given three treatments (sulfadoxine-pyrimethamine combined with amodiaquine, or a dual placebo) at four-monthly intervals, once each school term.
They found that IPT radically reduced the incidence of malaria infection and halved anaemia risk in children. Improvements were also seen in class-based tests of sustained attention among those receiving IPT, though educational achievement showed no impact.
"Although it has long been suspected that malaria impairs school performance, this is the first study to provide evidence of a direct link between malaria and reduced attention in class," The Lancet quoted Dr. Matthew Jukes, Assistant Professor of International Education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, as saying.
"These results indicate that malaria infection may hinder learning and its prevention could be important to enhance the educational potential of schoolchildren," he added.
Dr. Sian Clarke, a Lecturer in Malaria Research and Control at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine said, "Preventing malaria could have important health and cognitive benefits for African schoolchildren and deserves more attention.
"These results show us that intermittent preventive treatment in schools is a novel and effective means to address this problem," he added.
The new research is published today in the Lancet.