How speeding up malaria diagnosis can save lives in India

One of the biggest challenges India faces in combating malaria is that some people must travel hours or even days to get tested.

Now, as part of India’s ambitious plan to eliminate malaria by 2030, some 900,000 trained social health volunteers, mostly women, are coming to people’s homes. With them: “rapid diagnostic tests” that can quickly diagnose the mosquito-borne infectious disease from just a drop of blood.

One of the newest kits, “Parasight,” needs just four minutes to make the call. It’s distributed by the U.S.-based medical devices firm Becton, Dickinson and Company and developed by Sight Diagnostics Ltd. of Israel.

Rapid diagnostic tests are among the tools that have helped India cut malaria cases more than 50 percent since 2000. Other new techniques include long-lasting insecticidal nets, indoor residual spraying and “artemisinin-based combination therapy,” a technical term for a combination of two complementary medications.

Dr. A.C. Dhariwal, director of India’s National Vector Borne Disease Control Programme, said rapid diagnostic tests and the corps of social health volunteers are making a difference. “The community knows to call her when they have a fever, and she is responsible for walking door to door to screen and monitor the health of her village.”

When communities can quickly diagnose and treat malaria, progress also is swift. The World Health Organization reports that from 2000 to 2014, countries in South and East Asia have reduced malaria mortality by 85 percent.

Mark Dybul is executive director of the Global Fund, a partnership among governments, civil society, the private sector and private citizens to fight AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria. “India,” he says, “is showing others that with commitment, partnership and innovative strategies we can eliminate malaria.”