BACKGROUND: In 2006, the Senegalese National Malaria Control Programme (NMCP) has recommended artemisinin-based combination therapy (ACT) as the first-line treatment for uncomplicated malaria and, in 2007, mandated testing for all suspected cases of malaria with a Plasmodium falciparum HRP-2-based rapid diagnostic test for malaria (RDT(Paracheck). Given the higher cost of ACT compared to earlier anti-malarials, the objectives of the present study were i) to study the accuracy of Paracheck compared to the thick blood smear (TBS) in two areas with different levels of malaria endemicity and ii) analyse the cost-effectiveness of the strategy of the parasitological confirmation of clinically suspected malaria cases management recommended by the NMCP. METHODS: A cross-sectional study was undertaken in the villages of Dielmo and Ndiop (Senegal) nested in a cohort study of about 800 inhabitants. For all the individuals consulting between October 2008 and January 2009 with a clinical diagnosis of malaria, a questionnaire was filled and finger-prick blood samples were taken both for microscopic examination and RDT. The estimated costs and cost-effectiveness analysis were made considering five scenarios, the recommendations of the NMCP being the reference scenario. In addition, a sensitivity analysis was performed assuming that all the RDT-positive patients and 50% of RDT-negative patients were treated with ACT. RESULTS: A total of 189 consultations for clinically suspected malaria occurred during the study period. The sensitivity, specificity, positive and negative predictive values were respectively 100%, 98.3%, 80.0% and 100%. The estimated cost of the reference scenario was close to 700 euros per 1000 episodes of illness, approximately twice as expensive as most of the other scenarios. Nevertheless, it appeared to us cost-effective while ensuring the diagnosis and the treatment of 100% of malaria attacks and an adequate management of 98.4% of episodes of illness. The present study also demonstrated that full compliance of health care providers with RDT results was required in order to avoid severe incremental costs. CONCLUSIONS: A rational use of ACT requires laboratory testing of all patients presenting with presumed malaria. Use of RDTs inevitably has incremental costs, but the strategy associating RDT use for all clinically suspected malaria and prescribing ACT only to patients tested positive is cost-effective in areas where microscopy is unavailable.