WHO recommends malaria diagnosis prior to treatment

A new Cochrane Systematic Review of the accuracy of Rapid Diagnostic Tests for malaria based on the presence of parasite antigens has prompted the World Health Organization to strongly recommend confirming a malaria diagnosis prior to treatment with artemisinin combination therapies.

Until recently, in order to confirm a malaria diagnosis, parasites had to be detected using a blood sample and a microscope. This method requires a highly-trained staff, reagents and equipment - all scarce commodities in many malaria afflicted areas.

RDT’s, on the other hand, use manufactured antibodies that, when in contact with infected blood, bind with the malaria parasite and trigger a color change on a test strip that can be seen with the naked eye. The tests are technically difficult to produce, but once made, they are simple to perform and require no specialized equipment.

"After reviewing available data in 74 different studies, we can say that the these antigen-detecting tests will identify at least 19 out of 20 cases, a success rate that would be very useful in clinical practice," Katharine Abba, from the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, said.

In Sub-Saharan Africa, primary health workers have often have to assume that any fever is caused by malaria and distribute anti-malarial drugs. This approach wastes valuable resources and is possibly leading to the development of drug resistance in the malaria parasite.

"The use of Rapid Diagnostic Tests is another step towards reaching the goal of universal accuracy in the diagnosis of malaria and key to ensuring that the correct treatment is given to patients,” Abba said. “Resources can be saved with the rational use of anti-malarial drugs and it will also reduce the pressure on drug resistance."