Investing in Diagnostics to Improve Treatment
Geneva 24 April 2012 — As the international community commemorates World Malaria Day this week, UNITAID is gearing up for its next round of agenda-setting investments in malaria: quality and innovative diagnostic technology.
Two new UNITAID projects aim to increase access to quality-assured “rapid diagnostic tests” (RDTs). Portable and easy-to-use, RDTs detect antigens produced by the malaria parasite, allowing for results in under 25 minutes in resource-limited settings.
The malaria parasite strikes fast and what seems like a child’s simple fever can quickly become fatal. Almost 90% of the 650,000 people who died from malaria in 2010 were children. Early diagnosis, followed by appropriate treatment, is crucial in stemming deaths from malaria and reducing the risk of drug resistance. Due to a lack of easy-to-access malaria tests, many children are misdiagnosed and given anti-malarials at the first sign of fever, when in fact the ailment may be due to another cause. The result, treatment efficacy may diminish through drug resistance for children who contract malaria.
The new malaria diagnostic projects respond to these challenges, through innovative market interventions:
UNITAID has committed up to US$ 34.4 million to Population Services International (PSI) to create a private sector market for RDTs in five malaria-endemic countries. RDTs are available in hospitals, clinics and other public sector outlets in these countries, but are nearly non-existent in pharmacies, markets and other private sector outlets where 40-60% of the population in malaria endemic countries seek care for malaria. This project aims to transform the RDT market from a low-volume, high-margin market for poor quality RDTs to one where customers have easy access to affordable, quality-assured RDTs.
UNITAID also committed close to US$ 10 million to the Foundation for Innovative New Diagnostics (FIND). The project will evaluate the quality of RDTs and develop new technology to simplify and standardize quality testing and make it more sustainable. This project has the potential to serve as a model for the development of approaches that will ensure the quality of point-of-care tests in low-resource settings.
UNITAID has played a key role in the global partnership against malaria over the past years, with US$ 380 invested in the most effective treatments and quality mosquito nets. These simple but powerful tools have enabled UNITAID and its partners to save millions of lives – in Africa, malaria deaths have been cut by one third within the last decade.