An innovative malaria test looks to halt the disease’s spread in rural Mauritania. © Alisha Rodriquez/Counterpart International.

By Jeff Baron

Counterpart International is the first organization to bring a new, quick test for malaria to community health programs in Mauritania.

The new test requires no microscope or technician, just a bit of blood and four drops of testing solution on a piece of paper. The results – one line showing no malaria or two lines showing an infection – are available in only 15 minutes.

“This takes the testing out the lab and puts it into the field and allows communities to take the initiative to identify and treat those at risk of malaria,” says Jennifer Burns, a Counterpart nutritional technical specialist. “By shortening the testing time from days to minutes, we greatly reduce the suffering and can begin immediate treatment. This will save lives.”

Counterpart introduced the rapid diagnostic test in 71 rural communities in the southern part of the country, where malaria is endemic, as part of a community health program designed to improve children’s health and nutrition. The communities were selected based on high rates of malnutrition and limited access to health services.

Burns, who recently returned from Mauritania’s rural villages, says the tests are particularly valuable for high-risk residents, such as pregnant women and small children, who don’t have easy access to a professional health center.

The pilot project in the Guidimakha and Hodh el Gharbi regions of southern Mauritania is a collaborative effort involving Counterpart, the National Program Against Malaria and the Ministry of Health, which provided the test.

Burns said that Dr. Salif Diangana, the Counterpart program’s health and nutrition coordinator, worked with the Mauritanian government and was a strong advocate to use the test at the community level. Counterpart is looking for a donor to make the test available more widely in Mauritania.

The pilot project included training sessions under the supervision of the regional departments of health for 71 community health workers – residents who had volunteered to serve their villages. The health workers were equipped with the malaria rapid diagnostic tests and medicines and learned to use them properly.

Counterpart and Ministry of Health teams will follow up with monitoring and supervision to research the successes and lessons learned from this pilot experience. The first monitoring mission carried out 107 malaria rapid diagnostic tests; four patients tested positive and received treatment.

The new malaria treatment procedure is approved by the World Health Organization.