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WORLD HEALTH. 1991 Sep-Oct; 12.A researcher with WHO's Tropical Disease Research Programme reviews techniques used to diagnose malaria. Present techniques have not improved much since a French physician 1st used a microscope in 1880 to examine blood from a sick soldier and then noticed the parasites of Plasmodium falciparum. Yet optical quality has improved and special stains can now be used to color the parasites making them more recognizable. In fact, at a magnification of 600-700 times, a scientist can identify all 4 plasmodia, the blood forms of the plasmodia, and count the plasmodia. Blood samples and a microscope allow physicians to monitor the ill person's progress after they began treatment. Yet a microscope and the needed laboratory skills and other resources are not always present in health center in a village in countries where malaria is endemic. It is here where simple and effective techniques are needed the most. 1 approach is to detect antibodies to the plasmodia, but this takes much time. In addition, antibodies are only present after an individual has been infected for a relatively long time. Thus this technique cannot detect malaria early enough to provide proper treatment. Another approach readily identifies antigens. Yet the techniques required are complicated and require a lot of time. Besides antigen techniques are not as reliable as microscopic diagnosis. Researchers are presently experimenting on simple visual methods which are quick, inexpensive, and reliable. Molecules in the plasmodia which are in a small amount of blood will either react or not react with reagents incorporated on a dipstick or card. Thus physicians can detect what plasmodia are present and estimate parasite load. Another test can inform the physicians what antimalarial to prescribe and how much and resistance of the plasmodia to the antimalarial.