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New Quick Malaria Diagnostic Test May Help Reduce Overtreatment

“Health workers often treat patients for malaria even when a test indicates a different cause of the illness,” a behavior seen across sub-Saharan Africa “that worries many health experts,” PRI’s The World reports. “Prescribing malaria medication to patients who don’t need it wastes precious resources in a country already dealing with drug shortages … leav[ing] patients untreated for the real cause of their sickness. And it can lead to drug resistance, making malaria parasites harder to eliminate when people really do contract the disease,” according to The World.

Though the WHO at one time urged African doctors to treat feverish children for malaria right away because of the scarcity of malaria diagnostic tests, the growing availability of these tests has prompted WHO to change its policy, which now states that cases should be confirmed before treatment is given, The World notes. “Ugandan health officials hope to change the behavior of both doctors and patients with the help of [a] newly available … quick diagnostic test that delivers results like a home pregnancy test. In clinics that have been properly trained to diagnose with the newer test, use of malaria drugs has dropped considerably – by as much as half – and that should leave more drugs available for people who really do have malaria,” according to The World (Balderas, 8/17).

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Filling the need for trusted information on national health issues, the Kaiser Family Foundation is a nonprofit organization based in Menlo Park, California.