A rapid, affordable, non-invasive detection tool could help accelerate progress towards the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals to eliminate malaria, say the researchers who developed it.
WHO’s Global Technical Strategy for Malaria 2016-2030 aims to reduce malaria incidence and mortality by at least 75 percent by 2025 and at least 90 percent by 2030 from the 2015 baseline.
But by 2021, malaria cases and deaths are both off track by 48 percent. Based on current trajectories, the world will be 88 percent off track to meet malaria targets, says Abdisalan Noor, head of the Strategic Information Response Unit at WHO’s Global Malaria Program.
Researchers from Australia and Brazil have developed a hand-held infrared spectrometer that shines infrared light on a person’s ears, hands or fingers for about five seconds to detect changes in blood. caused by malaria.
They hope it can be used in WHO-recommended universal screening, which is part of the current malaria eradication strategy.
“If we can identify the majority of asymptomatic patients, they can receive treatment and prevent transmission to others, especially children under five,” said Maggie Lord, lead author of the study, published on December 7. PNAS Nexus.
Sensitive diagnostics will play a key role in surveillance and early detection of outbreaks as malaria control efforts intensify and countries move towards elimination.
Jane Achan, Senior Research Advisor, Malaria Consortium
“By shining light on a part of the body, the infrared signature is detected by a phone or computer,” says Lord, a researcher at the University of Queensland’s School of Biological Sciences. SciDev.Net. “This infrared signature reflects what is present in a person’s blood. [As] Malaria infects red blood cells, causing both structural and chemical changes; these changes are what are seen in the reflected signature.”
Computer algorithms are then used to develop predictive algorithms that can distinguish people infected with malaria from those who are not, providing results in real time, he explains.
“These spectrometers cost approximately $2,500, but require no sample handling procedures or reagents to operate, and therefore can be easily scaled to scan about 1,000 people per day per device,” adds Lord.
The tool is the result of a research collaboration between the University of Queensland in Australia and the Osvaldo Cruz Institute in Brazil.
The technology could also help fight other vector-borne diseases, such as Zika and dengue in asymptomatic people, which are a source of transmission through mosquitoes, Lord said.
“This was just a proof of concept, and with further funding we will expand the study to other malaria-endemic areas before offering these devices for clinical use. We are expanding our work with partners in Kenya and Tanzania,” he adds.
WHO’s 2022 World Malaria Report highlights the need to invest in new tools, alongside strengthening health systems and increasing funding. In 2021, there were 619,000 deaths and 247 million cases of malaria worldwide. While African countries account for about 95 percent of cases and 96 percent of deaths, the nine malaria-endemic countries in the Southeast Asian region contribute about two. percentage of malaria burden last year.
In 2021, more than three-quarters of malaria cases in the WHO South-East Asia region were concentrated in India, with increases in cases also seen in Bangladesh, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and Indonesia. In the WHO Western Pacific region, Papua New Guinea accounted for 87 percent of all cases in 2021, followed by the Solomon Islands, Cambodia and the Philippines.
Jane Achan, senior research advisor at the Malaria Consortium, says: “Sensitive diagnostics will play a key role in outbreak surveillance and early detection as malaria control efforts are intensified and countries move towards elimination. As such, new and innovative diagnostic tools are urgently needed, especially in light of threats to the effectiveness of some currently available tools.”
“Non-invasive malaria diagnostic tools are attractive as a rapid, reagent-free and affordable approach, but their sensitivity and specificity need to be established in endemic settings and evidence collected on how they can be universally integrated into health practice,” Achan said. not related to the study, he tells SciDev.Net:.
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