The impact of sub-microscopic malaria parasitaemia on rapid diagnosis in north-eastern Tanzania, an area with diverse transmission patterns

Robert D. Kaaya1,2*, Johnson J. Matowo1,2, Debora C. Kajeguka3, Filemon F. Tenu2, Boniface A. Shirima1,2, Franklin W. Mosha1,2, Reginald A. Kavishe3
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Global malaria epidemiology has changed in the last decade with a substantial increase in cases and death being recorded. Over 90% of global cases and deaths occur in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA). Tanzania accounts for about 4% of all cases and deaths reported in recent years. It is believed that several factors contribute to the resurgence of malaria, parasite resistance to antimalarials and mosquito resistance to insecticides being at the top of the list. The presence of sub-microscopic infections poses a significant challenge to malaria rapid diagnostic tests (mRDT), particularly in low-endemic areas. Our cross-sectional surveys in Handeni and Moshi, Tanzania assessed the effect of low parasite density on mRDT. A significant difference (P˂0.001) in malaria prevalence by mRDT, light microscopy (LM) and nested polymerase chain reaction (PCR) was found among age groups. In comparison to all other groups, schoolage children (5-15 years) had the highest prevalence of malaria. Based on the results of this study, mRDT may miss up to 6% of cases of malaria mainly due to low-density parasitaemia. Routinely used mRDT will likely miss the sub-microscopic parasitemia which will ultimately contribute to the continued spread of malaria and hinder efforts to control and eliminate it.