Malaria experts meet in Narok tomorrow for the World Malaria Day with new data showing the disease still remains a major killer in the country.
The Kenya National Economic Survey 2017, released last week, showed that malaria killed 16,000 people last year, second only to pneumonia which claimed 21,295 lives.
The Narok event is historic because it comes at the end of the country’s most ambitious, National Malaria Strategy 2009-2017.
The strategy had promised a ‘Malaria Free Kenya’ by the end of this year. But statistics show the plan has fallen short of target.
While malaria deaths may have halved from about 30,000 in 2012 to 16,000 last year, there are reports from the Kenya Medical Research Institute showing the disease may be on the rise again.
The celebrations will also be overshadowed by an ongoing malaria upsurge in the Rift Valley. Uasin Gishu County is currently fighting a seasonal surge of malaria with about 160 cases reported by the weekend.
But despite the gloom malaria experts meeting in Nairobi this morning, ahead of the Narok event, are excited by a new revolutionary malaria testing technology.
The technology developed with assistance from the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is able to detect malaria before patients can exhibit any signs of sickness.
“Unlike the current Rapid Diagnostic Tests (RDTs), the new molecular technology will be able to detect low-level infections even in healthy people,” says a CDC research brief.
Medical experts say the technology; Illumigene Malaria LAMP, manufactured by Meridian Bioscience of the US may do for malaria what the mobile phone has done for telecommunication.
A recent evaluation by the CDC and the University of Dakar, and reported in November in Scientific Reports showed Illumigene compared well in poor field conditions with advanced laboratories in the US.
This means the kit can be used in a poor rural village to give similar results with advanced molecular laboratories.
According to John A. Kraeutler of Meridian Bioscience, molecular testing is not a new concept. But until now, it has required complex laboratories and highly trained personnel.
“What Illumigene has done is to bring this complex technology to the village,” he said.
Malaria experts think the new technology can fit in a new proposed strategy to eliminate malaria from the country as envisioned in this year’s Malaria Day theme “End Malaria for Good.”
Towards this, the Ministry of Health, CDC and other groups are considering two daring strategies; mass drug administration for all people in malaria zones or mass screening and treatment of those infected.
The thinking behind both is that if all malaria parasites are killed in humans then the mosquito will have to pick from one to the next person hence reducing or even eliminating the disease.