"Moving with Time": Progress made in Malaria Diagnosis

Updated: Oct 21, 2019

By: Aroma Grace



Malaria is a disease that has affected half of the world. According to the World Health Organization, in 2015 there were about 212 million cases of the disease with over 429,000 deaths recorded as a result of the malaria parasite. This calls for deliberate efforts in diagnosis. The question still remains: is our methods accurate enough?


Causes:

Malaria is caused by the plasmodium parasite which is transmitted to humans by female anopheles mosquitoes. The plasmodium parasite is neither a bacteria nor a virus, but a single celled organism that multiplies in red blood cells of humans as well as the intestines of mosquitoes. There are four types of the plasmodium parasite: P. falciparum, P. ovale, P.vivax and P.malariae. P. falciparum. The Plasmodium falciparum is the most common and deadliest variety, it is mainly found in Sub-Saharan Africa. 📷


A mosquito on human skin.


Signs and symptoms:

Symptoms related to malaria include headaches, chills and sweats with vomiting, nausea and diarrhea in some cases. Since malaria has similar symptoms as many other tropical diseases like typhoid, one needs to be diagnosed correctly in order to avoid the use of incorrect drugs which may lead to fatal effects, including and not limited to death.


Diagnosis:

So far, there has been various means of diagnosing malaria, ranging from traditional methods previously used in the olden times to more advanced methods, developed in scientific laboratories.


The first and most common form of diagnosis for Malaria is the clinical method. In this method,a patient is diagnosed with malaria based on the signs and symptoms they exhibit. Such symptoms include chills, sweating, fever, headaches and sometimes, vomiting. This method is considered cheap as it does not involve any testing costs. However, it ends up being expensive in the long run since it has a very high probability of being misdiagnosed. Additionally, one is given drugs without proper knowledge of the amount of damage caused by the plasmodium parasite in the blood. Many tropical diseases, such as typhoid, portray symptoms similar to those of malaria, thus clinical diagnosis is strongly discouraged and should always be confirmed using a laboratory test.


Another commonly used and more reliable testing method is the use of microscopy. A sample blood drop is taken from the patient to identify any plasmodium parasites present in the person’s blood. This is done by staining the blood smear to make the parasites have a distinctive appearance, normally done with a Giemsa stain. This method is more accurate as it gives a clear picture of the presence or absence of plasmodium in a patient’s blood. However, the cost of such a test is what keeps many low-income families in Africa away from the hospital. The fact that this method also requires the use of microscopes and stains makes it hard for local clinics and hospitals to afford them. In addition to that, the blood test may fail to identify the malaria parasites in one’s blood depending on the quality of the stain used and the experience of the technician involved.


The most recent method of malaria diagnosis is the invention by Ugandan researcher Brian Gitta. He came up with a more accurate malaria diagnosis without the use of blood samples. This is done by shining a red beam of light on a person’s finger. This enables one to check for changes in the shape of red blood cells due to malaria infection. The results are then transmitted to a mobile phone. One of the greatest advantages of this test is that it takes only two minutes to make a diagnosis when compared to RDTs (Rapid Diagnostic Tests) which take 15 minutes and microscopy tests which take up to 30 minutes. Through the avoidance of contact with body fluids, it also prevents one from being re- infected with other diseases. This method was recently discovered and is therefore still under tests to determine whether it is safe for human beings. If approved, this could be the most effective form of diagnosing malaria, a huge step in the fight against this deadly disease.


REFERENCES:

Robinson, Jennifer. 28/02/2018. “What To Know About Getting Tested For Malaria.” Web MD https://www.webmd.com/a-to-z-guides/malaria-test. Retrieved on 27/03/2019

Hopkins, Heidi. 03/01/2019. “Malaria Diagnosis. “ Up To Date https://www.uptodate.com/contents/diagnosis-of-malaria Retrieved on 27/03/2019

Asiedu, Kwasi. 16/06/2018. “Stopping Malaria.” Quartz Africa https://qz.com/africa/1307524/malaria-bloodless-test-by-uganda-engineer-wins-africa-engineering-prize/ Retrieved on 05/02/2019

Cohut, Maria 03/05/2018. “Watch Out for mosquitoes, ticks and fleas, warn the CDC.” https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/321718.php . Retrieved on 31/03/2019.

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