The World Health Organization is releasing new guidelines for the treatment of malaria. It is now possible to rapidly diagnose malaria in even the poorest settings, making treatment of the disease more effective.
Health officials say great progress has been made in the fight against malaria. But, it still remains a huge problem. The World Health Organization reports nearly 250 million cases of malaria occur each year, causing 850,000 deaths, most among children in sub-Saharan Africa.
The Director of the WHO Global Malaria Program, Robert Newman, says fight against malaria is far from over. But, the world now has the means to rapidly diagnose malaria and treat it effectively.
"In recent years, the development of rapid, diagnostic tests for malaria, also known as RDTs, which can be performed by healthcare workers after a brief training has made the extension of diagnostic testing to rural health facilities possible," said Robert Newman.
In 2008, WHO reports just 22 percent of suspected malaria cases were tested in 18 of 35 African countries.
Dr. Newman says the diagnostic test can be performed at all levels of the health system, including community settings. He says WHO recommends this test be performed on everyone that is suspected of having malaria.
"This will ensure, not only, that those who receive artemisinin-combination medicines really have malaria, but will also allow health care workers to exclude malaria and look for other causes of fever in those who do not have malaria…" Newman adds, "It will take some time to achieve the goal of universal diagnostic testing for malaria…But, in the end, it will be worth it. Not only will we do a better job of treating patients, but, we will be helping to prevent the potential spread of resistance to artemisinins, our most important class of medicines for treating malaria."
The World Health Organization also is issuing its first ever guidelines on "Good procurement practices" for artemisinin-based anti-malarial medicines.
WHO notes this is important because there are around 800 different brands of anti-malarial medicines around the world. It says pharmaceutical markets in malaria endemic countries often are unregulated.
As a consequence, many of these products are ineffective, sub-standard, and in some cases dangerous. The WHO guidelines will help national authorities assess the quality of malaria medicines before they buy them.