The Herald (Harare)

30 October 2012

Zimbabwe: Test Kits - Malaria Control Needs a United Approach

The rainy season usually brings worry for people living in malaria-prone zones since the conditions become conducive to the breeding of mosquitoes that spread the disease. Though the rains have not started falling in earnest, there have been showers here and there and this calls for adequate preparation to ensure that we roll back malaria.

However, doubts arise when the foot soldiers in this fight appear to be singing from different hymn books.

In our edition yesterday, it was reported that the Government had acquired about 60 000 Para-Check rapid malaria test kits whose low sensitivity at picking malaria parasites was reportedly condemned by the World Health Organisation.

We learn that the Government last year discontinued the use of Para-Check testing kits due to their low sensitivity of 50 percent at picking malaria compared with other test kits whose sensitivity ranges between 95 and 98 percent.

The Government's decision to stop the use of the test kits, we are told, followed complaints from health practitioners nationwide who said that the kits were largely ineffective.

It is quite disturbing that senior Government officials working on the malaria programme are giving contrasting views on the issue of the testing kits, with one in support of the kits while the other says the kits were condemned and should not be used.

The ministry's malaria manager Dr Stanford Mashaire said there was nothing wrong with the kits while the laboratory services director Dr Douglas Mangwanya said the kits were condemned and should be returned.

"We are not going to accept them. The Government of Zimbabwe agreed to use First Response (another product said to be more effective) and not Para-Check. . ."said Dr Mangwanya.

To add to the confusion surrounding the malaria testing procedures, provincial medical directors have also expressed their discomfort at the use of Para-Check testing kits saying the product was weak at picking parasites.

We believe the health of our people is of paramount importance and we thus cannot dismiss the arguments over the use of malaria testing since ultimately the efficacy of whichever product is used has a bearing on the health of our people.

It should be noted that malaria is a major killer hence early diagnosis is very important to avoid unnecessary deaths.

It is with this in mind that we would like to urge the Minister of Health and Child Welfare, Dr Henry Madzorera, to state the Government's position and justification thereof in order to re-assure the public that they are in safe hands at public hospitals should they develop malaria symptoms.

We would like to urge the Government to resolve the issue speedily since the impression created is that doctors in provincial structures have had problems with the test kits for a long time to a point where they were forced to ignore a negative diagnosis where they believed the patient was suffering from malaria and prescribe malaria drugs.

The only way the country can win the war against malaria is through a concerted effort spearheaded by a united army, which seems to be lacking in this case, since officials from the same ministry are giving different assessments and policy positions on the same issue.

This does not augur well for our vulnerable people in remote malaria-prone areas where some of these kits will be distributed for use hence the need for clarity before patients lose confidence in health procedures.

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