Community health workers critical for elimination of malaria
A new approach that utilizes community health workers could potentially break the cycle of malaria transmission. This is one of the recommendations from a new report just released, Community-based reduction of malaria transmission, which documents the outcome of a 2010 expert consultation of the World Health Organization (WHO), the Special Programme for Research and Training in Tropical Diseases (TDR) and the Malaria Eradication Research Agenda initiative.
“Eliminating the remaining reservoirs of parasites cannot be achieved without considerable local commitment and capacity strengthening for community health workers,” says Dr Robert Newman, Director of WHO’s Global Malaria Programme. The workers need to be trained to identify - through diagnostic testing - people who carry Plasmodium parasites but who do not necessarily develop malaria symptoms. Then they need to be capable of providing effective treatment to those who have confirmed infections, and later accurately reporting results. This is different from the standard process of just treating those with symptoms, and the benefit is that it kills parasites in everyone so they cannot be transmitted to mosquitoes, thus preventing new infections and potentially breaking the cycle of transmission.
For this approach to work, the report advises that reliable and rapid reporting systems need to be in place to provide the basis for responsive planning, procurement and the distribution of diagnostics tests and antimalarial medicines. Community awareness, acceptance, and ownership of this approach - even when malaria no longer appears to exist in the community - will be critical. A continued commitment and guidance from national authorities, and strengthened health information systems will also be crucial to make this a success.