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.

The Malaria Product Testing Evaluation Programme just completed a new assessment of the performance of 29 rapid diagnostic tests and found that 16 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 38 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).

Source: World Health Organization