25 April 2013 Today is World Malaria Day and UNITAID is spreading the word about the need for better rapid testing for malaria, an essential part of the response against this mosquito-borne disease.
On a recent visit to Nampula province, a rugged and remote region in Northern Mozambique, we saw first-hand how rapid diagnostic tests can play an essential role in helping health workers better target treatment and save previous resources.
Malaria is the largest killer of children in Nampula province, an agricultural and poor region where up to five million people live spread out in rural communities. Yet not every fever is caused by malaria –rapid testing is essential.
In Nampula city we met with Juzcelina Langa, a representative of the Provincial Health Director. She described the challenges facing Nampula’s strained health system, with only about one fully trained doctor in each of the 21 districts. Malaria is the major cause of hospital admission and patients are often registered and treated for the disease without ever being diagnosed, Ms Langa told us.
Ms Langa said there was lack of access to many health products for malaria, including rapid diagnostic tests (RDTs - pictured) Portable and easy-to-use, RDTs detect antigens produced by the malaria parasite, providing results in less than 25 minutes.
In malaria-endemic regions throughout Africa, valuable resources are wasted on malaria treatments for those who do not have malaria, and the real cause of fever often goes untreated. RDTs allow for a quick diagnosis and can be administered at hospitals or at the community level.
We saw first-hand the strain on the province’s health system at the overcrowded Nampula Central Hospital, which is the main referral hospital for all of Northern Mozambique – covering 11 million people. Up to four children shared a bed in the inpatient paediatric ward, while mothers and babies found space on the floor. Many patients and parents came in from great distances with malaria symptoms.
An hour ride outside of Nampula, at the District Health Directorate in Meconta, only a few trained health workers serve a region of 180,000 people.
Here, health worker Mitterrand Tito Olingana of the District Health Directorate uses an RDT to diagnose a young child with malaria – thankfully, medicines were available and he prescribed the child immediate treatment.
In the heavily rural Monapo disctrict – a day’s walk from nearby health facilities – we met Samuel Jacinto, an Agente Polivalente Elementar (community health worker). Samuel received four months of training and today he is a full-time health worker, testing and treating malaria in his district.
Every day Samuel takes his bike from village to village, using RDTs to test for malaria. He records all cases and provides quality treatment courses for those that test positive. He also carries fever medication, including antibiotics and antidiarrheals.
According to Samuel, less children are dying of malaria now that health workers – equipped with quality RDTs and treatments – are active in the community.
UNITAID has committed over US$ 40 million to scale-up access to RDTs and improve their quality. Learn more about these projects here: http://www.unitaid.eu/what/malaria
Photos 1,2,3,4,5, 8 and 9 by Gelise McCullough Photos 6 & 6 by Ilan Moss
Thanks to the Malaria Consortium, who organized this visit.