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Diagnostic tests can help Count Malaria Out

23 April 2010 -- Better diagnostic testing may be a key to count malaria cases and help defeat the disease. Also better tests will more accurately identify who actually has the disease, make sure people get the correct medicines and prevent the misuse of malaria drugs.

Transcript of the podcast

Veronica Riemer: You're listening to the WHO podcast and my name is Veronica Riemer. In this episode we look at how WHO is working to Count Malaria Out, which is the theme for this years World Malaria Day celebrated on 25 April.

Malaria kills over a million people each year - most of them African children - and hinders individual and socioeconomic development across the continent. It is caused by malaria parasites, which are injected into the bloodstream by infected mosquitoes. To defeat malaria, we need to be able to count malaria cases through better diagnostic testing, and find out where the disease is most rampant. Dr Robert Newman, WHO's Director of the Global Malaria Programme explains why diagnostic testing helps patients receive the very best care available.

Dr Robert Newman: Now we need to make sure that when people do still get sick with a fever that they are getting the appropriate diagnostic testing. For many years, fever equalled malaria in many parts of the world, especially in Africa, so people with a fever would go in and were automatically given medicines to treat malaria. Now we can actually provide diagnostic testing for people. Traditionally this was with a microscope which meant that in very small health facilities and rural areas, it wasn't possible. But today we have inexpensive rapid diagnostic test that can be performed by any level of health worker and so the message for a patient with fever has changed from going in to get treatment to go in and get tested.

Veronica Riemer: Diagnostic testing means that countries can routinely measure progress by more accurately counting cases. This can help control malaria by identifying areas of transmission, and promptly recognize and respond to malaria outbreaks with antimalarial treatment. The best results are achieved with prompt treatment with artemisinin-based combination therapies, use of insecticidal nets, and indoor residual spraying with insecticide to control the vector mosquitoes.

Dr Robert Newman: As Malaria is being controlled a lower proportion of those fevers are actually due to malaria. So it is increasing important that we accurately determine the cause of fever, rather than reflexively assuming that it's malaria. We have changed the WHO recommendations to say that all persons with symptoms of malaria should benefit from a diagnostic test and that those who are confirmed as having malaria should then get appropriate treatment with an artemisin based combination therapy (ACT).

Veronica Riemer: One of the major threats to malaria control today is resistance to artemisinin-based mono therapies. Resistance to the drugs makes them less effective and could eventually render them obsolete, putting millions of lives at risk. WHO Director-General Dr Margaret Chan is calling for a halt on their use.

WHO Director-General Dr Margaret Chan: The global momentum that has been built, so quickly, to tackle malaria is extraordinary. In a very short time, the world has gone from trying to hold malaria at bay, to aiming for its eradication.

The move towards eradication needs a carefully planned, phased approach. Right now, we need to continue to build confidence on the ground.

The further spread of resistance to artemisinins makes progress fragile. We must be forceful in our call to put a stop to the marketing and use of monotherapies. We need to increase the use of diagnostic tests as another way to prevent the misuse of these drugs.

Veronica Riemer: Senegalese superstar Youssou N’dour is West Africa's most influential singer and Special Envoy for the Roll Back Malaria Partnership. He uses his music and influence to help amplify the fight against malaria. We asked him for his message on World Malaria Day 2010.

Youssou N'Dour: Make sure everybody has bed nets, make sure everybody knows the danger of malaria and everybody has their own responsibility on behalf of his family. I think this is important, what I call surround sound, it is something we start now in Senegal and we hope we are going to develop it in a different country to bring people together to fight, to eradicate or to reduce the malaria problem.

Veronica Riemer: That's all for this episode of the WHO podcast. Thanks for listening. If you would like more nformation about World Malaria Day 2010, please see the links at the bottom of the transcript page.

We leave this podcast with the music of Youssou N'Dour performed at a concert to support malaria control. For the World Health Organization, this is Veronica Riemer in Geneva.

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