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[ADDIS ABABA] Africa must work towards providing home-based rapid diagnostic test kits and give more consideration to gender issues in the fight against malaria, a new report recommends.

The report, commissioned by Femmes Africa Solidarite and released at the African Union summit in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia last week (25 January), explores the issue of gender in malaria policies.

It recommends the use of home-based malaria test kits based on a pilot study carried out by the World Health Organization (WHO) in 135 remote villages in Rattanakiri province, north-eastern Cambodia.

The study found that the rapid diagnostic kits helped to reduce malaria deaths in the region by nearly one third in four years.

According to Peja Olukoya, of the WHO's department of gender, women and health, access to malaria prevention methods and treatment is crucial in Africa, especially for high-risk groups such as pregnant women and people living with HIV/AIDS.

The report urges decision-makers at all levels to consider gender issues in their malaria policies and allow for decisions to be made at the community level.

It says health centres should be given financial and technical help to provide compulsory and free sex education, especially for adolescent girls at risk of early pregnancy.

These recommendations are based on studies, discussed in the report, which show that women find it difficult to access healthcare services because of often busy schedules, including heavy workloads, which leaves them with little time to seek medical services.

"Women are not in the habit of expressing their health needs or they are perceived as sexually disloyal if they visit a male health worker," states the report, which calls for qualitative research to address gender related barriers to prevention and treatment.

It also calls for more social research on "intra-household power dynamics" which determine who sleeps under insecticide treated nets and who wakes up earliest to undertake the basic domestic work to keep the family alive.

The report was jointly authored by the Global Gender and Malaria Network, which comprises the WHO's Roll Back Malaria Initiative, Femmes Africa Solidarite and the Multilateral Initiative on Malaria.