Drug treatment of severe malaria must be rapidly effective. Suppositories may be valuable for childhood malaria when circumstances prevent oral or parenteral therapy. We compared artesunate suppositories (n = 41; 8 to 16 mg/kg of body weight at 0 and 12 h and then daily) with intramuscular (i.m.) artemether (n = 38; 3.2 mg/kg at 0 h and then 1.6 mg/kg daily) in an open-label, randomized trial with children with severe Plasmodium falciparum malaria in Papua New Guinea (PNG). Parasite density and temperature were measured every 6 h for >= 72 h. Primary endpoints included times to 50% and 90% parasite clearance (PCT50 and PCT90) and the time to per os status. In a subset of 29 patients, plasma levels of artemether, artesunate, and their common active metabolite dihydroartemisinin were measured during the first 12 h. One suppository-treated patient with multiple complications died within 2 h of admission, but the remaining 78 recovered uneventfully. Compared to the artemether-treated children, those receiving artesunate suppositories had a significantly earlier mean PCT50 (9.1 versus 13.8 h; P = 0.008) and PCT90 (15.6 versus 20.4 h; P = 0.011). Mean time to per os status was similar for each group. Plasma concentrations of primary drug plus active metabolite were significantly higher in the artesunate suppository group at 2 h postdose. The earlier initial fall in parasitemia with artesunate is clinically advantageous and mirrors higher initial plasma concentrations of active drug/ metabolite. In severely ill children with malaria in PNG, artesunate suppositories were at least as effective as i.m. artemether and may, therefore, be useful in settings where parenteral therapy cannot be given.