Saving lives: Developing a rapid test for tropical fevers

children in countryside

Each day over 12,000 people die in the tropics from a fever due to bacterial or malaria infection. How to treat these fevers – whether to use an antimalarial or an antibiotic – is a life or death decision. However, there’s currently no simple way for health workers to tell whether they’re faced with a bacterial or malaria infection or a self-limiting viral illness.

This leads to the unnecessary use of antimicrobials, and helps drive the spread of drug resistance.

Correctly targeting antimicrobials to patients in need could avert millions of deaths annually, while avoiding the unnecessary consumption of anti-malarials would reduce antimicrobial resistance.

MORU Health Economist Yoel Lubell’s Grand Challenges Canada project 'Would combined procalcitonin and malaria rapid tests optimize management of fever in the tropics?', explores whether procalcitonin levels can predict the need for antimicrobials in tropical diseases. If they do, Yoel and his team aim to develop a simple, affordable combined rapid test based on two validated markers of bacterial and malaria infection that will allow health workers to differentiate between malaria and bacterial diseases and help them to decide whether antibiotics or antimalarials are needed to treat a fever.

ampai tanganuchitcharnchai

Currently, Yoel and his team surveying the serum samples from the original fever studies (from Laos, Mae Sot, Cambodia and Tanzania) and are getting the Material Transfer Agreement sorted out where needed. They plan to start running the assays over the coming few weeks on the mini-VIDAS, a compact automated immunoassay system based on the Enzyme Linked Fluorescent Assay (ELFA) principles.

Implemented in Cambodia, Congo, Laos, Nigeria, Rwanda and Tanzania, Yoel’s Grand Challenges Canada project was one of 83 inventive new ideas for addressing health problems in resource-poor countries chosen by the Grand Challenges Canada “Stars in Global Health” program, which seeks breakthrough and affordable innovations that could transform the way disease is treated in the developing world.

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Grand Challenges Canada is funded by the Government of Canada and is dedicated to supporting Bold Ideas with Big Impact in global health.