Uganda has announced plans to deploy a rapid diagnostic test for malaria in 2019, as the first step towards complete elimination of the disease.
According to the World Health Organisation, Uganda ranks fifth among countries with the highest malaria cases, behind Nigeria, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Mozambique and India.
The WHO 2018 malaria report shows that Uganda accounted for four per cent of the 219 million cases that were recorded in 2017, when an estimated 14,400 people died of the disease.
According to statistics provided by the Ministry of Health, most malaria deaths and cases occur in places like Karamoja, which has the highest prevalence at 70 per cent. Other regions with a high malaria prevalence are Busoga and the areas around Lake Kyoga.
High sense test
The rapid diagnostic test also known as the high sense test, will be deployed in these areas.
Individuals with hidden malaria will be singled out and treated before infecting others.
The high sense test will also be deployed at Entebbe International Airport and among pregnant women, children and refugees.
Dr Jim Opiga, the malaria control manager said that Kampala, Kigezi and Mt Elgon have low malaria prevalence, which means elimination of the disease is now possible.
Ministry of Health data show that in places like Kampala and the Mt Elgon area, only one per cent of malaria tests turn out positive, while in Kigezi, the prevalence stands at five per cent.
But the 2018, malaria operation plan produced by the United States Agency for International Development (USAid) shows that despite low malaria rates, the mountain areas like Kigezi and Mt Elgon have the potential to suffer from epidemics.
The high sense test is 10 times more effective than the one currently in use.
The test, to be provided by Abbott Laboratories, has received provisional approval from the WHO and will be deployed in Uganda’s public sector once ongoing acceptability tests are concluded next year.
The test can detect the malaria parasites even before symptoms start showing.
“This will tell us where transmission is happening, allowing us to put in place measures for elimination of the disease,” said Dr Opiga.
The current test in use in Uganda can only detect malaria, if there are 100 parasites per micro litre of blood.
The high sense test can find malaria parasites even before they multiply in the blood stream.
According to the Ministry of Health, testing for malaria symptoms after they manifest often means that the disease has quietly spread for some time.
While this allows for treatment, it curtails prevention, since malaria parasites can be spread by a person who is yet to show symptoms.
Ministry spokesperson Emmanuel Ainebyoona, said that deployment of the high sense test on pregnant women will ensure that the parasites are detected early.
“Immunity among pregnant women is low, so early detection makes treatment easier,” he said.
Currently, pregnant women are given anti-malarial tablets for prevention and treatment is provided once the disease is detected.
But Mr Ainebyoona said that treatment even before the signs start showing would improve maternal and child health outcomes, as fewer women would die during childbirth.