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Rapid Diagnostic Testing for Malaria is More Important Than Ever During the COVID-19 Pandemic

“COVID-19 and malaria have similar symptoms, like fever, fatigue, headache and sometimes difficulty breathing,” notes Regina Akweley Kluise, Deputy Director of Nursing Services in Akuapem North District in Ghana.

Malaria is a major health risk in Ghana, with over 4.9 million diagnosed cases and over 11,000 deaths in 2019 alone. With the added threat of COVID-19, the World Health Organization (WHO) advised high-malaria burden countries, like Ghana, to tailor interventions and maintain the availability of essential health supplies, like malaria rapid diagnostic tests.

Regina, who also works as a trained, district-level quality assurance health supervisor, knows that now, amid the COVID-19 pandemic, it is more important than ever to correctly diagnosis the cause of fevers to ensure patients get the right treatment.

PMI, through its flagship malaria service delivery project PMI Impact Malaria (IM), supports the NMCP in Ghana to provide high quality malaria case management services in 867 health facilities in seven regions with high malaria burden. This support includes on-the-job training in line with WHO’s test, treat, and track strategy for malaria. With additional funding from USAID, IM supported the NMCP in the development and roll out of COVID-19 case management and laboratory guidelines.

Regina recently attended a two-day training supported by IM on how to supervise, train, and coach health workers in diagnosing and treating malaria in the facilities where they work. Following the training, Regina donned a face mask and other COVID-19 precautionary measures while visiting the Tetteh Quarshie Memorial Hospital. There, she provided on-site support to hospital outpatient nurses as part of IM’s Outreach, Training and Supportive Supervision Plus (OTSS+) approach to improving health worker skills in diagnosing and treating malaria.

 

Regina Kluise conducts a refresher training for outpatient department nurses on using malaria rapid diagnostic tests at the Tetteh Quarshie Memorial Hospital in Mampong Auapem, Eastern Region. Photo Credit: Emmanuel Attramah, IM Ghana

Regina and her team noted some of the nurses weren’t quite confident in using rapid diagnostic tests for malaria and supplies were low. Regina took the opportunity to provide an on-the-job refresher training for the nurses on performing rapid malaria diagnostic tests and monitoring and maintaining stock levels.

Thanks to training, coaching, and support by quality assurance supervisors like Regina, nearly 90% of all health workers in 867 targeted health facilities across Ghana can effectively use rapid malaria tests and correctly diagnosis malaria. In addition, there have been no test stockouts at Tetteh Quarshie Memorial Hospital in over a year.

With COVID-19 and malaria sharing similar symptom profiles, WHO warned deaths from malaria could increase if the diseases were misdiagnosed. Regina adds, “…we had to increase malaria rapid diagnostic tests use at the hospitals and health centers.” Her role in ensuring health care workers have malaria rapid diagnostic tests available and the skills to use them confidently and correctly is critical in heading off this added threat, and in getting patients the correct therapy they need in treating the cause of fevers.

Header Photo Caption: Regina Kluise and outpatient department nurses with their malaria rapid diagnostic test records and inventory books at the Tetteh Quarshie Memorial Hospital. Photo Credit: Emmanuel Attramah, IM Ghana

PMI Impact Malaria is funded and technically assisted by the U.S. President's Malaria Initiative (PMI) and is led by Population Services International (PSI) in partnership with JhpiegoMedical Care Development International (MCDI), and UCSF.

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