Polymerase chain reaction (PCR) assays are the most sensitive and specific method to detect malaria parasites, and have acknowledged value in research settings. However, the time lag between sample collection, transportation and processing, and dissemination of results back to the physician limits the usefulness of PCR in routine clinical practice. Furthermore, in most areas with malaria transmission, factors such as limited financial resources, persistent subclinical parasitaemia, inadequate laboratory infrastructures in the poorer, remote rural areas preclude PCR as a diagnostic method. Even in affluent, non-endemic countries, PCR is not a suitable method for routine use. Nonetheless, PCR could be clinically useful in selected situations.