Revolutionary malaria tests have unexpected downsides
A simple fix to a major public health challenge has turned out to be not so simple after all.
In the early 2000s, researchers developed rapid diagnostic tests (RDTs) for malaria, a major childhood killer. Simple as a home pregnancy kit, RDTs need just one drop of blood from a finger prick to detect the malaria parasite. They enabled health workers in remote villages in Africa and Asia to accurately and almost instantly diagnose malaria, making them less likely to overuse the new generation of “wonder drugs,” artemisinin-based combination therapies (ACTs), which were in danger of being lost to drug resistance.
The use of RDTs skyrocketed after the World Health Organization in 2010 recommended that all suspected cases of malaria be confirmed by a test before treatment; roughly 314 million tests were procured in 2014. Together with ACTs, they have transformed malaria treatment in poor countries.
- Health Care