Economics research promotes malaria testing

January 9, 2013 by Matt Collette
Research shows that making malaria tests available in countries like Uganda leads to more effective treatment. Credit: Thinkstock

In poor coun­tries where malaria is preva­lent but access to health care is lim­ited, many people mis­tak­enly treat the common cold or other serious ill­nesses such as pneu­monia with med­ica­tions for the mosquito-​​borne disease.

North­eastern econ­o­mist William Dickens, a Uni­ver­sity Dis­tin­guished Pro­fessor of Eco­nomics and Social Policy and a non­res­i­dent senior fellow at the Brook­ings Insti­tu­tion, and a team of researchers is trying to combat this problem. Late last year, the researchers pub­lished a sem­inal research study in the open-​​assess journal, which found that pro­viding sub­si­dies and edu­ca­tion can influ­ence more people in poor coun­tries like Uganda to get tested for . Upping the avail­ability of malaria tests increased the like­li­hood that infected people would take the appro­priate med­ica­tion and decreased the like­li­hood of taking unnec­es­sary, costly, and poten­tially harmful med­ica­tions, which are often sold at drug stores without a prescription.

Artem­i­nisin is the only avail­able drug that is broadly effec­tive against malaria, which has adapted to resist ear­lier forms of treat­ment, but it is also very expen­sive. Sub­si­dies make it pos­sible for people to pur­chase the drug, Dickens explained, but also lead to its overuse. This, in turn, can increase the cost of malaria treat­ment pro­grams and raise the risk that those who take Artem­i­nisin inap­pro­pri­ately can build par­a­site immu­nity and suffer con­se­quences from delayed treat­ment of other serious illnesses.

"The big problem right now in fighting malaria is that the par­a­sites have become resis­tant to all of the cheap old cures to malaria," Dickens said.

Sub­si­dizing the costs of malaria tests, he noted, makes them more afford­able for both drug stores and patients, and thus more acces­sible, Dickens said. He added that stores often don't pro­vide these tests if they must pay full price, citing a fear of being unable to sell them.

"Overall, we proved that you could dis­tribute the tests through the pri­vate sector," Dickens said, noting that hos­pi­tals and public health orga­ni­za­tions tra­di­tion­ally per­form the tests. "This was a very effec­tive way to get more tests out."

Dickens pre­sented the find­ings last weekend at the annual meeting of the Amer­ican Eco­nomic Asso­ci­a­tion. He hopes that the study, which was con­ducted by researchers from insti­tu­tions including North­eastern, Johns Hop­kins Uni­ver­sity, and the Har­vard School of Public Health, will help shape the poli­cies of orga­ni­za­tions such as the Global Fund and U.S. Agency for Inter­na­tional Devel­op­ment, both of which have major cam­paigns against malaria.

"These find­ings can make a very real dif­fer­ence in how global devel­op­ment orga­ni­za­tions fight malaria," he said.

Explore further: Validation for flu prediction

Related Stories

Validation for flu prediction

January 8, 2013

(Medical Xpress)—In 2009, the H1N1 virus slipped into the blood­streams of more than 40 mil­lion people around the world. In just four months, it killed more than 14,000 indi­vid­uals as it trav­eled from Mexico to ...

Opioid overdose rates 'impossible' to ignore

November 21, 2012

(Medical Xpress)—Opioid over­dose now kills more people than both AIDS and homi­cides in America and has sur­passed auto­mo­bile acci­dents as the leading cause of acci­dental death in many states. According to the ...

3Qs: Patients' access to doctors' notes examined

November 20, 2012

In a pilot study called Open­Notes, more than 100 primary-​​care physi­cians vol­un­teered to invite more than 20,000 patients to review their doc­tors' notes fol­lowing an office visit to deter­mine the effects ...

Recommended for you

Zika virus infection alters human and viral RNA

October 20, 2016

Researchers at University of California San Diego School of Medicine have discovered that Zika virus infection leads to modifications of both viral and human genetic material. These modifications—chemical tags known as ...

Food-poisoning bacteria may be behind Crohn's disease

October 19, 2016

People who retain a particular bacterium in their gut after a bout of food poisoning may be at an increased risk of developing Crohn's disease later in life, according to a new study led by researchers at McMaster University.

Neurodevelopmental model of Zika may provide rapid answers

October 19, 2016

A newly published study from researchers working in collaboration with the Regenerative Bioscience Center at the University of Georgia demonstrates fetal death and brain damage in early chick embryos similar to microcephaly—a ...

Scientists uncover new facets of Zika-related birth defects

October 17, 2016

In a study that could one day help eliminate the tragic birth defects caused by Zika virus, scientists from the Florida campus of The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI) have elucidated how the virus attacks the brains of newborns, ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.