Malaria: Preparing for the Unexpected
Education & Research In parts of the world, malaria and other infectious diseases are as widespread as the common cold.
Here, in the United States and other developed countries, trained experts draw a drop of blood and visually inspect it for malaria parasites under a microscope. In developing countries, this process is an exercise in trial and error, producing uncertain results.
If the power is out, the microscope won’t work. If the chemical used to stain or color the malaria parasites is old, the parasite will be harder to see. If a child recently contracted the disease, there might not be enough parasites to detect under a microscope.
Even if a malaria diagnosis is made, what a health care worker sees in a basic clinic cannot tell him or her anything about the type of parasite present, or if it is resistant to available drugs. An inaccurate diagnosis can lead to an ambiguous, and potentially dangerous, treatment regimen—if treatment is given at all.
Diagnostics gone wrong
In addition to malaria, the diagnostics for other infectious diseases are based on observations: visualizing tuberculosis with a chest x-ray or counting immune cells to determine if HIV has progressed to AIDS.
Development often does ‘just good enough’ for optimal hospital settings, so it’s not surprising that many cases of infectious diseases in resource poor settings go undiagnosed. Unreliable diagnostic tools not only leave patients in danger, they contribute to a growing problem around the world.
"Fourteen million people die from infectious diseases every year."
Left undiagnosed, the problems of infectious diseases multiply. Diseases become more severe and spread faster. Inappropriate drug use leads to resistance.
We must do better. Fourteen million people die from infectious diseases every year. Research using new, innovative approaches to improve the speed and accuracy of diagnoses will save lives. With proper funding and support, the development of new rapid and robust diagnostic tests have the power to help eradicate infectious diseases once and for all.