A group of Nigerian scientists have come up with a new simple method for diagnosing malaria. This marks the first time urine, not blood, is used to test for malaria. Sam Olukoya reports from Lagos.
It's a typical scene for a pediatric clinic in Lagos. Children crying in pain after health workers pierced their thumbs with medical needles to extract blood samples for malaria tests. But a new malaria test could soon put an end to the pain and tears of these children.
With a urine test kit, one can diagnose malaria by merely putting a strip in a small container of urine. A line shows on the strip if one has the malaria parasite.
Unlike the old method which requires health personnel to carry out malaria tests, people can now test themselves for the disease at home. "This is a major milestone," said Eddy Agbo, founder of Fyodor, the biotechnology firm that developed the urine test kit.
"It is a one step [process]. You just dip [a thread] in the sample, leave it there for 25 minutes and read the result. It is very similar to a pregnancy test that uses urine," added.
Self-diagnosis versus medical diagnosis
The innovation gained international and local recognition after winning the inaugural 2015 Health Innovation Challenge awards in Nigeria. It was also nominated for the African Innovation Foundation (AIF) award in collaboration with the Government of Botswana.
Each year, millions die of malaria in sub-Sahara Africa because of the inability to quickly diagnose and commence treatment. Many in Nigeria are reluctant to go to hospital and be tested for malaria.
"When you have malaria you just go on self-medication because most times you may not have what it takes to go for a lab test before treating yourself for malaria," Vivian Adebola told DW.
"When you go to health centers, you have to wait from morning until afternoon because they have so many people on the queue for that test. So the alternative is to go for self-medication," she added.
Adebola assumes that most fevers are caused by malaria. Medical practitioners hope that now that urine test can be done at home, it will encourage people to test and confirm it is malaria before taking drugs for the ailment.
Targeting African and Asian markets
But the Nigerian Healthcare Providers Association (NHPA) said self-medication has a potential to lead to the abuse of malaria drugs. "Without a positive test for malaria, you don't treat for malaria," said Dr. Umar Oluwole Sanda, president of NHPA.
"This is what happened to Chloroquine. Chroroquine was over abused, it became resistant we could not use it again. But with the introduction of this new product using urine to test for malaria parasite, it will go a long way to help many practitioners," Sanda added.
In collaboration with Nigeria's ministry of health, the new method has been introduced into the local market and there are plans to sell it across Africa and Asia. Both continents account for many of the 425 million malaria cases worldwide and the more than 400,000 deaths resulting from the ailment annually.