Peter Gething and colleagues compute the number of fevers likely to present to public health facilities in Africa and the estimated number of these fevers likely to be infected with Plasmodium falciparum malaria parasites.
As international efforts to increase the coverage of artemisinin-based combination therapy in public health sectors gather pace, concerns have been raised regarding their continued indiscriminate presumptive use for treating all childhood fevers. The availability of rapid-diagnostic tests to support practical and reliable parasitological diagnosis provides an opportunity to improve the rational treatment of febrile children across Africa. However, the cost effectiveness of diagnosis-based treatment polices will depend on the presumed numbers of fevers harbouring infection. Here we compute the number of fevers likely to present to public health facilities in Africa and the estimated number of these fevers likely to be infected with Plasmodium falciparum malaria parasites.
Methods and Findings
We assembled first administrative-unit level data on paediatric fever prevalence, treatment-seeking rates, and child populations. These data were combined in a geographical information system model that also incorporated an adjustment procedure for urban versus rural areas to produce spatially distributed estimates of fever burden amongst African children and the subset likely to present to public sector clinics. A second data assembly was used to estimate plausible ranges for the proportion of paediatric fevers seen at clinics positive for P. falciparum in different endemicity settings. We estimated that, of the 656 million fevers in African 0–4 y olds in 2007, 182 million (28%) were likely to have sought treatment in a public sector clinic of which 78 million (43%) were likely to have been infected with P. falciparum (range 60–103 million).
Spatial estimates of childhood fevers and care-seeking rates can be combined with a relational risk model of infection prevalence in the community to estimate the degree of parasitemia in those fevers reaching public health facilities. This quantification provides an important baseline comparison of malarial and nonmalarial fevers in different endemicity settings that can contribute to ongoing scientific and policy debates about optimum clinical and financial strategies for the introduction of new diagnostics. These models are made publicly available with the publication of this paper.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Malaria —an infectious parasitic disease transmitted to people through the bite of an infected mosquito —kills about one million people (mainly children living in sub-Saharan Africa) every year. Although several parasites cause malaria, Plasmodium falciparum is responsible for most of these deaths. For the past 50 years, the main treatments for P. falciparum malaria have been chloroquine and sulfadoxine/pyrimethamine. Unfortunately, parasitic resistance to these “monotherapies” is now widespread and there has been a global upsurge in the illness and deaths caused by P. falciparum. To combat this increase, the World Health Organization recommends artemisinin combination therapy (ACT) for P. falciparum malaria in all regions with drug-resistant malaria. In ACT, artemisinin derivatives (new, fast-acting antimalarial drugs) are used in combination with another antimalarial to reduce the chances of P. falciparum becoming resistant to either drug.
Why Was This Study Done?
All African countries at risk of P. falciparum have now adopted ACT as first-line therapy for malaria in their public clinics. However, experts are concerned that ACT is often given to children who don't actually have malaria because, in many parts of Africa, health care workers assume that all childhood fevers are malaria. This practice, which became established when diagnostic facilities for malaria were very limited, increases the chances of P. falciparum becoming resistant to ACT, wastes limited drug stocks, and means that many ill children are treated inappropriately. Recently, however, rapid diagnostic tests for malaria have been developed and there have been calls to expand their use to improve the rational treatment of African children with fever. Before such an expansion is initiated, it is important to know how many African children develop fever each year, how many of these ill children attend public clinics, and what proportion of them is likely to have malaria. Unfortunately, this type of information is incompletely or unreliably collected in many parts of Africa. In this study, therefore, the researchers use a mathematical model to estimate the number of childhood fevers associated with malaria infection that presented to Africa's public clinics in 2007 from survey data.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers used survey data on the prevalence (the proportion of a population with a specific disease) of childhood fever and on treatment-seeking behavior and data on child populations to map the distribution of fever among African children and the likelihood of these children attending public clinics for treatment. They then used a recent map of the distribution of P. falciparum infection risk to estimate what proportion of children with fever who attended clinics were likely to have had malaria in different parts of Africa. In 2007, the researchers estimate, 656 million cases of fever occurred in 0–4-year-old African children, 182 million were likely to have sought treatment in a public clinic, and 78 million (just under half of the cases that attended a clinic with fever) were likely to have been infected with P. falciparum. Importantly, there were marked geographical differences in the likelihood of children with fever presenting at public clinics being infected with P. falciparum. So, for example, whereas nearly 60% of the children attending public clinics with fever in Burkino Faso were likely to have had malaria, only 15% of similar children in Kenya were likely to have had this disease.
What Do These Findings Mean?
As with all mathematical models, the accuracy of these findings depends on the assumptions included in the model and on the data fed into it. Nevertheless, these findings provide a map of the prevalence of malarial and nonmalarial childhood fevers across sub-Saharan Africa and an indication of how many of the children with fever reaching public clinics are likely to have malaria and would therefore benefit from ACT. The finding that in some countries more than 80% of children attending public clinics with fever probably don't have malaria highlights the potential benefits of introducing rapid diagnostic testing for malaria. Furthermore, these findings can now be used to quantify the resources needed for and the potential clinical benefits of different policies for the introduction of rapid diagnostic testing for malaria across Africa.
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1000301.
Information is available from the World Health Organization on malaria (in several languages) and on rapid diagnostic tests for malaria
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provide information on malaria (in English and Spanish)
MedlinePlus provides links to additional information on malaria (in English and Spanish)
Information on the global mapping of malaria is available at the Malaria Atlas Project
Information is available from the Roll Back Malaria Partnership on the global control of malaria (in English and French) and on artemisinin combination therapy