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Testing for Malaria, Quickly

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Last year during the rainy season, Jackton Oloko recalls testing more than 300 mothers and children for malaria in a single day . “I’ve never been so busy,” he said. But being busy he believes is one of the reasons malaria rates have dropped precipitously over the years in the Sauri Millennium Village located in western Kenya.

Oloko has been the lab technician in the Bar Sauri health facility since 2005. Back then he used to work in a small closet-like room with eyes strained under a microscope checking blood-stained slides all day long. He said it was hard to avoid stepping on the slides which were strewn about outside his door drying in the midday sun. He could examine 30, maybe 40 slides a day.

Checking for plasmodium falciparum, the malaria parasite, in the blood is a necessary first step before prescribing ACTs or artemisinin combination therapies. Other anti-malarial drugs like chloroquine were rendered ineffective long ago as malaria in sub-Saharan Africa grew resistant mostly because the drug was over-prescribed.

Sauri RDTsSince 2011 when Rapid Diagnostic Tests (RDTs) were introduced, the Millennium Villages Project was quick to adopt it throughout many of the clinics it operates. With a simple prick of the finger and adding a drop of blood to a small plastic device about the size of a stick of gum, he can tell if a child has malaria within minutes. From there if the test turns positive, she receives a dose of anti-malarials.

Here in Sauri, Oloko said he’s seen malaria rates drop from nearly half the population to less than 10 percent. These days in a new larger room built by the MVP he averages about a 100 tests a day, June and July being the busiest months.

Now RDTs are a regular part of the equipment used by community health workers who can quickly administer the test within households and prescribe the drugs when needed. Oloko is encouraged by the changes he’s seen year to year. He hopes for a day when malaria will be a thing of the past and he won’t have to do tests any more.

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