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Rapid diagnostic tests help quickly identify who has malaria

Fri, 04/23/2010 - 11:20am
World Health Organization
A new evaluation of malaria rapid diagnostic tests will help health workers quickly identify which patients have the disease and need immediate treatment, putting into action recent World Health Organization recommendations to confirm diagnosis of malaria before treatment.

Malaria kills 860 000 people a year worldwide, mostly children in Africa. In addition, there are cases in Asia, Latin America, the Middle East and parts of Europe. World Malaria Day is 25 April.

Rapid diagnostic tests for malaria

The Malaria Product Testing Evaluation Programme just completed a new assessment of the performance of 29 rapid diagnostic tests and found that 15 of them met minimum performance criteria set by WHO.

"These rapid tests have been a major breakthrough in malaria control," said Dr Robert Newman, Director of WHO's Global Malaria Programme. "They allow us to test people who cannot access diagnosis based on microscopy in remote, rural areas where the majority of malaria occurs."

In 2008, just 22% of suspected malaria cases were tested in 18 of 35 African countries reporting. Universal diagnosis would enable health workers to identify which patients with fever have malaria and need life-saving antimalarial drugs, and which have other causes of illness and require alternative treatment. Better diagnosis of the disease will improve overall childhood survival, one of the UN health Millennium Development Goals.

Recent WHO malaria treatment guidelines call for diagnosis using either microscopy or the rapid tests before treatment in all cases of suspected malaria.

With 37 tests that now meet minimum performance criteria, malaria-endemic countries and donors have a wider choice of tests which have been assessed for quality and reliability.

The evaluation programme is co-sponsored by the Foundation for Innovative New Diagnostics (FIND), the Special Programme for Research and Training in Tropical Diseases (TDR), WHO Global Malaria Programme (GMP) and the WHO Regional Office for the Western Pacific. Testing is performed at the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

About TDR

The Special Programme for Research and Training in Tropical Diseases (TDR) is a global programme of scientific collaboration established in 1975, sponsored by the United Nations Children's Fund, United Nations Development Programme, World Bank and World Health Organization, and executed by WHO.

About FIND

FIND is a non-profit Swiss organization established in 2003, with offices in Uganda and India. Its mission is to develop, evaluate, demonstrate, and accelerate the roll out of new diagnostic tests and platforms for diseases of poverty, including TB, malaria, and human African trypanosomiasis. FIND's approach is to address diagnostic needs across disease areas so that tests can also be implemented at levels of the health care system closer to where patients first seek care. FIND has active collaborations with over 100 partners, including Ministries of Health, bilateral and multilateral organizations, such as WHO, research institutes/academia, commercial partners, and clinical trial sites.

About the WHO Global Malaria Programme

The WHO Global Malaria Programme (GMP), is responsible for malaria surveillance, monitoring and evaluation, policy and strategy formulation, technical assistance, and coordination of WHO's global efforts to fight malaria.

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