Malaria killed about 627 000 people globally in 2012 and 482 000 children under the age of five, the World Health Organisation (WHO) said in its factsheet malaria report, adding that an estimated 3.4 billion people are at risk of malaria.
A total of 97 countries had ongoing malaria transmission in 2013, the Geneva-based UN health agency said.
Between 2000 and 2012, a scale-up of malaria interventions saved an estimated 3.3 million lives. 90%, or 3 million, of these are in the under-five age group in sub-Saharan Africa, according to the report.
Many countries in Africa lack adequate funding and expertise to prevent malaria, let alone eradicate it, and several studies show that health professionals in Africa rely too much on symptoms alone to treat malaria.
Therefore, a new WHO study has just revealed that comprehensive training of health workers could cut to half malaria over-diagnosis.
The findings, published by Sci-Dev.Net, said the guidelines recommend that patients’ blood should be tested for malaria parasites before prescribing medicines, but the researchers say many malaria-endemic countries often rely on symptoms rather than blood testing for treatment.
The study was conducted in health facilities in Yaoundé and Bamenda (Cameroon).
The study found out that inappropriate use of malaria drugs after a negative test was reduced from 84% in the control group — representing the standard practice in Cameroon — to 52% and 31%, respectively in health facilities where clinicians received basic and comprehensive training.
“When health workers diagnose on the basis of symptoms alone, which is common in many parts of Africa, there is a danger of over-diagnosis, which can harm the patient,” Virginia Wiseman, lead author of the study and senior lecturer at the UK-based London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, was quoted by Sci-Dev.Net as saying.
In Africa, malaria attacks mostly pregnant women and children below the age of five, with Ghana and the Democratic Republic of Congo being the soft targets of this mosquito-borne disease.
Wiseman also said that fever could result from life-threatening conditions, including meningitis and pneumonia, and that training clinicians to use RDTs (Rapid Diagnosis Tests) could prevent waste of valuable malaria drugs and resources for developing nations such as sub-Saharan Africa.
Kiambo Njagi, a medical entomologist at the Division of Malaria Control of Kenya’s Ministry of Health, told Sci-Dev.Net that RDTs were simple to use and did not require highly-trained laboratory technicians often missing in remote regions of Africa.
He said advocacy could facilitate behavioural change among clinicians, but pointed out that the training could only be effective if clinicians were given the tools for detecting malaria parasites.