The article below was contributed by journalist Ntaryike Divine Jr. (Douala, Cameroon) as part of the SjCOOP project in collaboration with MalariaWorld.
The device produces results within 15 minutes and also resolves the problem of distinguishing between cases of fever provoked by various illnesses and that caused by malaria. The rapid diagnostics test kits, abridged RDTs will be supplied by Standard Diagnostics.
The venture is the first phase of a plan expected to gather momentum next year, with the projected distribution of 4 million kits in the malaria-endemic country with over 20 million inhabitants. Officials at the National Program for the Fight against Malaria say the kits will not only be intended for medics, but also for home use.
The initiative, for which medics and health-related NGO members are currently being groomed, is an outcome of grants from Round 9 of the Global Fund to which Cameroon gained eligibility earlier this year. It also follows a decision by the government at the start of 2011 to render simple malaria treatment gratis nationwide alongside ongoing sporadic distribution of insecticide treated bed nets.
Despite these measures, malaria stubbornly remains the number one cause of morbidity and mortality across Cameroon. According to the Ministry of Public Health, it is responsible for 35 - 40% deaths in health facilities: 50% morbidity among children below 5 years of age as well as 40 - 45% medical consultations and 30% hospitalizations. Experts add that malaria is prevalent all year round in almost the entire country with the transmission period varying from 7 - 12 months.
Professor Tetanye Ekoe, Vice President of the National Order of Medical Doctors in Cameroon, says malaria treatment hurdles are further compounded by the few numbers of doctors in the country. The doctor-patient ratio is 1: 40,000 inhabitants. He adds that in remote areas the ratio is closer to 1 doctor per 50,000 inhabitants, implying that a considerable number of patients have to wait for days for results of their pre-treatment medical exams to be returned from competent laboratories located in distant towns and cities.
Frequently, the results are delivered too late – when patients with severe forms of the disease have given up the ghost. Across the country, medics believe the planned popularization of the rapid malaria test kits will ensure punctual diagnosis and effective treatment, and culminate in curbing preventable deaths from the disease.
Philippe Seung-Min Kang, Standards Diagnostics Commercial Director for West and Central Africa says RDTs, otherwise known as immuno-chromatographic tests have been developed in different formats including the dipstick, strip, card, pad, well, or cassette. He says the methods all cut time and effort and do not require a laboratory, electricity, or any special equipment for malaria detection.
Conventional diagnosis of malaria generally requires long hours in laboratories to identify the presence of the parasite or its antigens in the blood of the patient. In the RDT method patients simply collect a finger-prick blood specimen which they mix with a buffer solution labeled with a visually detectable marker. If the target antigen is present in the blood, a labeled antigen/antibody complex is formed, confirming the presence of and type of malaria parasite [including Plasmodium falciparum, Plasmodium vivax, Plasmodium ovale or Plasmodium malariae].
The World Health Organization estimates that up to 80 million rapid tests were used in 2007, mostly in Africa. Cameroon thus joins other countries like Senegal, Liberia, Ethipoia and Ghana that have introduced the rapid tests and are noticing significant cuts in malaria-related deaths. Experts agree that the rapid malaria detection method provides a relative cost-effective means of curbing the ravages of the disease which killed 863,000 people worldwide in 2008, and currently kills one child every 45 seconds.