Study of Rapid Malaria Tests Reveals Unexpected Results

A health care worker taking a blood sample to test for malaria in Lagos, Nigeria. Credit Pius Utomi Ekpei/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images/

A recent large study of rapid malaria tests found that while tests have improved malaria treatment in last ten years, they have also caused unexpected consequences. The tests were found to decrease the number of patients with fever who were incorrectly given malaria drugs. However, the study found an unusually high number of patients receiving antibiotics, even if they did not get tested for bacterial infections. Such use of antibiotics can encourage drug resistance. The study also found some people testing positive for malaria did not receive malaria drugs at all.

Study authors are not certain why either practice occurs, but theorized some clinics might reserve free malaria drugs for only seriously ill patients. The overabundance of antibiotics might be attributed to the difficulty of providing complex tests in poor countries and in areas where healthcare is difficult to access. Under such circumstances, health workers might be more likely to prescribe antibiotics “just in case”.

The study, recently published in The American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene, studied more than 500,000 patient visits to clinics in rural or urban areas of five African countries and Afghanistan.

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