Malaria is a global health problem, responsible for nearly 3 million deaths each year, and on the increase worldwide. Improvements in malaria diagnostics should facilitate the identification of individuals infected with the malarial parasites and the treatment of such cases with appropriate drugs. Both traditional and contemporary methods for malaria diagnosis are the subjects of the present review. Traditional diagnosis, based on the examination of Giemsa-stained thick and thin blood smears under a microscope, is inappropriate for many areas because there are insufficient microscopes and/or trained microscopists to read and interpret the slides. Such traditional methods are discussed in the context of parasite quantification. Newer, more advanced malaria diagnostics are now available and the relative merits of methods based on fluorescent microscopy or the detection of nucleic acid (including PCR) are described, including comparisons of costs. Fluorescent microscopy and nucleic-acid techniques both require skills and equipment which are not universally available in many malaria-endemic countries. Recently introduced diagnostic tests based on immuno-assays solve this problem since they are easy to run and interpret, and do not require complex equipment or technical support. They are also rapid (< 10 min/test), cost-effective and at least as sensitive as traditional microscopy.