Rapid kits to diagnose malaria

The launch of rapid diagnostic test (RDT) kits for malaria in Kenya - where only 30 percent of people treated for suspected malaria are tested to confirm infection - is expected to improve the reach, speed and accuracy of diagnosis and treatment, says a senior health official.

“Those found positive [for malaria] will be treated with recommended anti-malarial medicine,” said Shahnaaz Sharif, director of public health and sanitation. “The policy decision is also in line with the global recommendation on diagnosis of all suspected malaria cases.” 

Self-diagnosis based on flu-like symptoms and treatment using over-the-counter anti-malarial drugs is common, Sharif said. Malaria is endemic in Kenya and is among the leading causes of outpatient hospital attendance in some regions. 

The Global Malaria Programme’s new initiative, T3: Test. Treat. Track, urges malaria-endemic countries to aim for universal access to diagnostic testing and anti-malarial treatment. It also promotes the building of stronger malaria surveillance systems. Key interventions include prompt treatment with artemisinin-based combination therapies, the UN World Health Organization says.

According to the Ministry of Public Health and Sanitation, medical officers at the district and provincial levels are expected to ensure malaria treatment is diagnosis-based; they are also expected to make timely and accurate reports of all test kits’ results at the national level.

“This will ensure continued support for strengthening of malaria services in the country,” said Sharif.

Millions to be distributed

At least eight million RDTs have been procured for distribution in 2012, with another 11 million targeted for distribution in 2013, Sharif said, adding that there are appropriate validation systems in place to ensure that high quality is maintained at all levels of use.

“The RDTs will be distributed to all public and faith-based health facilities across the country,” he said. Priority will be given to health facilities, which currently do not provide diagnostic services for malaria - mainly health centres and dispensaries.

Training on the use of the RDT kits and on the reporting of test results will be provided alongside the kits’ distribution. The kits will be channelled through provincial medical directors on to the district, division and lower administration levels.

According to Sharif, the 2007 malaria indicator survey showed that the disease’s prevalence had dropped from 40 percent to less than 20. However, the population around western Kenya’s Lake Victoria Region has a higher prevalence.

To address this, the health ministry is planning to raise awareness of the need for malaria testing and treatment.

“It is impossible to arrest and prosecute each pharmacist who sells malaria drugs without prescription from a doctor, so we will enlighten the public through the media,” John Kinuthia, public relations officer in the Ministry of Public Health and Sanitation, told IRIN.

Malaria testing in Kenya had previously been through microscopy, which, unlike RDTs, requires electricity and the use of expensive reagents.