Clin Microbiol Infect 2011; 17: 1624–1631
Rapid diagnostic tests (RDTs) for malaria have improved the availability of parasite-based diagnosis throughout the malaria-endemic world. Accurate malaria diagnosis is essential for malaria case management, surveillance, and elimination. RDTs are inexpensive, simple to perform, and provide results in 15–20 min. Despite high sensitivity and specificity for Plasmodium falciparum infections, RDTs have several limitations that may reduce their utility in low-transmission settings: they do not reliably detect low-density parasitaemia (≤200 parasites/μL), many are less sensitive for Plasmodium vivax infections, and their ability to detect Plasmodium ovale and Plasmodium malariae is unknown. Therefore, in elimination settings, alternative tools with higher sensitivity for low-density infections (e.g. nucleic acid-based tests) are required to complement field diagnostics, and new highly sensitive and specific field-appropriate tests must be developed to ensure accurate diagnosis of symptomatic and asymptomatic carriers. As malaria transmission declines, the proportion of low-density infections among symptomatic and asymptomatic persons is likely to increase, which may limit the utility of RDTs. Monitoring malaria in elimination settings will probably depend on the use of more than one diagnostic tool in clinical-care and surveillance activities, and the combination of tools utilized will need to be informed by regular monitoring of test performance through effective quality assurance.