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1.  Measuring Under-Five Mortality: Validation of New Low-Cost Methods 
PLoS Medicine  2010;7(4):e1000253.
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Background
There has been increasing interest in measuring under-five mortality as a health indicator and as a critical measure of human development. In countries with complete vital registration systems that capture all births and deaths, under-five mortality can be directly calculated. In the absence of a complete vital registration system, however, child mortality must be estimated using surveys that ask women to report the births and deaths of their children. Two survey methods exist for capturing this information: summary birth histories and complete birth histories. A summary birth history requires a minimum of only two questions: how many live births has each mother had and how many of them have survived. Indirect methods are then applied using the information from these two questions and the age of the mother to estimate under-five mortality going back in time prior to the survey. Estimates generated from complete birth histories are viewed as the most accurate when surveys are required to estimate under-five mortality, especially for the most recent time periods. However, it is much more costly and labor intensive to collect these detailed data, especially for the purpose of generating small area estimates. As a result, there is a demand for improvement of the methods employing summary birth history data to produce more accurate as well as subnational estimates of child mortality.
Methods and Findings
We used data from 166 Demographic and Health Surveys (DHS) to develop new empirically based methods of estimating under-five mortality using children ever born and children dead data. We then validated them using both in- and out-of-sample analyses. We developed a range of methods on the basis of three dimensions of the problem: (1) approximating the average length of exposure to mortality from a mother's set of children using either maternal age or time since first birth; (2) using cohort and period measures of the fraction of children ever born that are dead; and (3) capturing country and regional variation in the age pattern of fertility and mortality. We focused on improving estimates in the most recent time periods prior to a survey where the traditional indirect methods fail. In addition, all of our methods incorporated uncertainty. Validated against under-five estimates generated from complete birth histories, our methods outperformed the standard indirect method by an average of 43.7% (95% confidence interval [CI] 41.2–45.2). In the 5 y prior to the survey, the new methods resulted in a 53.3% (95% CI 51.3–55.2) improvement. To illustrate the value of this method for local area estimation, we applied our new methods to an analysis of summary birth histories in the 1990, 2000, and 2005 Mexican censuses, generating subnational estimates of under-five mortality for each of 233 jurisdictions.
Conclusions
The new methods significantly improve the estimation of under-five mortality using summary birth history data. In areas without vital registration data, summary birth histories can provide accurate estimates of child mortality. Because only two questions are required of a female respondent to generate these data, they can easily be included in existing survey programs as well as routine censuses of the population. With the wider application of these methods to census data, countries now have the means to generate estimates for subnational areas and population subgroups, important for measuring and addressing health inequalities and developing local policy to improve child survival.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Background
Every year, more than 8 million children die before their fifth birthdays. Most of these deaths occur in developing countries, and most are the result of diseases or combinations of diseases that could have been prevented or treated. Measles, for example, is a major killer in low-income countries and undernutrition contributes to one-third of childhood deaths. Faced with this largely avoidable loss of young lives, in 1990, the United Nations' World Summit for Children pledged to improve the survival of children. Later, in 2000, world leaders set a target of reducing child mortality to one-third of its 1990 level by 2015 as Millennium Development Goal 4. This goal, together with seven others, is designed to alleviate extreme poverty by 2015. In 2006, for the first time since mortality records began, annual deaths among children under five fell below 10 million as a result of public-health programs such as the Measles Initiative, which has reduced global measles mortality by more than two-thirds by vaccinating 500 million children, and the Nothing but Nets campaign, which distributed insecticide-treated antimalaria nets in Africa.
Why Was This Study Done?
Although global under-five mortality is declining, it is unlikely that Millennium Development Goal 4 will be reached by 2015. Indeed, in some countries, little or no progress is being made toward this goal. To improve progress and to monitor the effects of public-health interventions, accurate, up-to-date estimates of national and subnational child mortality rates are essential. In developed countries, vital registration systems—records of all births and deaths—mean that under-five mortality rates can be directly calculated. But many developing countries lack vital registration systems, and child mortality has to be estimated using data collected in surveys. In “complete birth history” surveys, mothers are asked numerous questions about each living child and each dead child. Such surveys can be used to estimate under-five mortality accurately for recent time periods but they are expensive and time-consuming. By contrast, in “summary birth history” surveys, each mother is simply asked how many live births she had and how many of her children have survived. Under-five mortality can be indirectly calculated from this information and the age of the mother, but the current methods for making this calculation cannot provide reliable estimates of under-five mortality more recently than 3 years before the survey. In this study, therefore, the researchers develop methods for estimating more recent under-five mortality rates from summary birth histories.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers used data about all children born and dead children extracted from 169 Demographic and Health Surveys (DHS; a project started in 1984 to help developing countries collect data on health and population trends) covering 70 countries to develop four new methods to estimate under-five mortality. They tested these new methods and a method that combined all four approaches by comparing the estimates of under-five mortality provided by these methods and the standard indirect method to the estimates obtained from an analysis of the complete birth data in the DHS. The new methods all outperformed the standard indirect method, particularly for the most recent 5 years. The researchers also used their new methods to generate estimates of under-five mortality for each of the 233 jurisdictions in Mexico from summary birth histories collected in the 1990, 2000, and 2005 Mexico censuses. The overall trends of these subnational estimates, they report, mirrored those obtained from vital registration data.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings suggest that application of the new methods developed by the researchers could significantly improve the accuracy of estimates of under-five mortality based on summary birth history data. The researchers warn that although their methods can provide accurate estimates of recent under-five mortality, they might not capture rapid fluctuations in mortality such as those that occur during wars. However, they suggest, the two questions needed to generate the data required to apply these new methods could easily be included in existing survey programs and in routine censuses. Consequently, systematic application of the methods proposed in this study should provide policy makers with the information about levels, recent trends, and inequalities in child mortality that they need to accelerate efforts to reduce the global toll of childhood deaths.
Additional Information
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1000253.
This study and two related PLoS Medicine Research Articles by Obermeyer et al and by Murray et al are further discussed in a PLoS Medicine Perspective by Mathers and Boerma
The United Nations Childrens Fund (UNICEF) works for children's rights, survival, development and protection around the world; it provides information on Millennium Development Goal 4 and its Childinfo website provides detailed statistics about child survival and health (some information in several languages)
Further information about the Millennium Development Goals is available
The World Health Organization also has information about Millennium Development Goal 4 and provides estimates of child mortality rates
Information is also available about the Demographic and Health Surveys
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1000253
PMCID: PMC2854123  PMID: 20405055
2.  Child Mortality Estimation: Estimating Sex Differences in Childhood Mortality since the 1970s 
PLoS Medicine  2012;9(8):e1001287.
Cheryl Sawyer uses new methods to generate estimates of sex differences in child mortality which can be used to pinpoint areas where these differences in mortality merit closer examination.
Introduction
Producing estimates of infant (under age 1 y), child (age 1–4 y), and under-five (under age 5 y) mortality rates disaggregated by sex is complicated by problems with data quality and availability. Interpretation of sex differences requires nuanced analysis: girls have a biological advantage against many causes of death that may be eroded if they are disadvantaged in access to resources. Earlier studies found that girls in some regions were not experiencing the survival advantage expected at given levels of mortality. In this paper I generate new estimates of sex differences for the 1970s to the 2000s.
Methods and Findings
Simple fitting methods were applied to male-to-female ratios of infant and under-five mortality rates from vital registration, surveys, and censuses. The sex ratio estimates were used to disaggregate published series of both-sexes mortality rates that were based on a larger number of sources. In many developing countries, I found that sex ratios of mortality have changed in the same direction as historically occurred in developed countries, but typically had a lower degree of female advantage for a given level of mortality. Regional average sex ratios weighted by numbers of births were found to be highly influenced by China and India, the only countries where both infant mortality and overall under-five mortality were estimated to be higher for girls than for boys in the 2000s. For the less developed regions (comprising Africa, Asia excluding Japan, Latin America/Caribbean, and Oceania excluding Australia and New Zealand), on average, boys' under-five mortality in the 2000s was about 2% higher than girls'. A number of countries were found to still experience higher mortality for girls than boys in the 1–4-y age group, with concentrations in southern Asia, northern Africa/western Asia, and western Africa. In the more developed regions (comprising Europe, northern America, Japan, Australia, and New Zealand), I found that the sex ratio of infant mortality peaked in the 1970s or 1980s and declined thereafter.
Conclusions
The methods developed here pinpoint regions and countries where sex differences in mortality merit closer examination to ensure that both sexes are sharing equally in access to health resources. Further study of the distribution of causes of death in different settings will aid the interpretation of differences in survival for boys and girls.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary.
Editors' Summary
Background
In 2000, world leaders agreed to eradicate extreme poverty by 2015. To help track progress towards this global commitment, eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) were set. MDG 4, which aims to reduce child mortality, calls for a reduction in under-five mortality (the number of children who die before their fifth birthday) to a third of its 1990 level of 12 million by 2015. The under-five mortality rate is also denoted in the literature as U5MR and 5q0. Progress towards MDG 4 has been substantial, but with only three years left to reach it, efforts to strengthen child survival programs are intensifying. Reliable estimates of trends in childhood mortality are pivotal to these efforts. So, since 2004, the United Nations Inter-agency Group for Child Mortality Estimation (UN IGME) has used statistical regression models to produce estimates of trends in under-five mortality and infant mortality (death before age one year) from data about childbearing and child survival collected by vital registration systems (records of all births and deaths), household surveys, and censuses.
Why Was This Study Done?
In addition to estimates of overall childhood mortality trends, information about sex-specific childhood mortality trends is desirable to monitor progress towards MDG 4, although the interpretation of trends in the relative mortality of girls and boys is not straightforward. Newborn girls survive better than newborn boys because they are less vulnerable to birth complications and infections and have fewer inherited abnormalities. Thus, the ratio of infant mortality among boys to infant mortality among girls is greater than one, provided both sexes have equal access to food and medical care. Beyond early infancy, girls and boys are similarly vulnerable to infections, so the sex ratio of deaths in the 1–4-year age group is generally lower than that of infant mortality. Notably, as living conditions improve in developing countries, infectious diseases become less important as causes of death. Thus, in the absence of sex-specific differences in the treatment of children, the sex ratio of childhood mortality is expected be greater than one and to increase as overall under-five mortality rates in developing countries decrease. In this study, the researcher evaluated national and regional changes in the sex ratios of childhood mortality since the 1970s to investigate whether girls and boys have equal access to medical care and other resources.
What Did the Researcher Do and Find?
The researcher developed new statistical fitting methods to estimate trends in the sex ratio of mortality for infants and young children for individual countries and world regions. When considering individual countries, the researcher found that for 92 countries in less developed regions, the median sex ratio of under-five mortality increased between the 1970s and the 2000s, in line with the expected changes just described. However, the average sex ratio of under-five mortality for less developed regions, weighted according to the number of births in each country, did not increase between the 1970s and 2000s, at which time the average under-five mortality rate of boys was about 2% higher than that of girls. This discrepancy resulted from India and China—the two most populous developing countries—having sex ratios for both infant and under-five mortality that remained constant or declined over the study period and were below one in the 2000s, a result that indicates excess female mortality. In China, for example, infant mortality was found to be 12% higher for boys than for girls in the 1970s, but 24% lower for boys than for girls in the 2000s. Finally, although in the less developed regions (excluding India and China) girls went from having a slight survival disadvantage at ages 1–4 years in the 1970s, on average, to having a slight advantage in the 2000s, girls remained more likely to die than boys in this age group in several Asian and African countries.
What Do These Findings Mean?
Although the quality of the available data is likely to affect the accuracy of these findings, in most developing countries the ratio of male to female under-five mortality has increased since the 1970s, in parallel with the decrease in overall childhood mortality. Notably, however, in a number of developing countries—including several each in sub-Saharan Africa, northern Africa/western Asia, and southern Asia—girls have higher mortality than boys at ages 1–4 years, and in India and China girls have higher mortality in infancy. Thus, girls are benefitting less than boys from the overall decline in childhood mortality in India, China, and some other developing countries. Further studies are needed to determine the underlying reasons for this observation. Nevertheless, the methods developed here to estimate trends in sex-specific childhood mortality pinpoint countries and regions where greater efforts should be made to ensure that both sexes have equal access to health care and other important resources during early life.
Additional Information
Please access these websites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1001287.
This paper is part of a collection of papers on Child Mortality Estimation Methods published in PLOS Medicine
The United Nations Childrens Fund works for children's rights, survival, development, and protection around the world; it provides information on Millennium Development Goal 4, and its Childinfo website provides detailed statistics about child survival and health, including a description of the United Nations Inter-agency Group for Child Mortality Estimation; the 2011 UN IGME report Levels & Trends in Child Mortality is available
The World Health Organization also has information about Millennium Development Goal 4 and provides estimates of child mortality rates (some information in several languages)
Further information about the Millennium Development Goals is available
A 2011 report by the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs entitled Sex Differentials in Childhood Mortality is available
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1001287
PMCID: PMC3429399  PMID: 22952433
3.  Diagnosing Severe Falciparum Malaria in Parasitaemic African Children: A Prospective Evaluation of Plasma PfHRP2 Measurement 
PLoS Medicine  2012;9(8):e1001297.
Arjen Dondorp and colleagues investigate whether the plasma level of Plasmodium falciparum histidine-rich protein 2 can be used to distinguish between severe malaria and other severe febrile illness in African children with malaria.
Background
In African children, distinguishing severe falciparum malaria from other severe febrile illnesses with coincidental Plasmodium falciparum parasitaemia is a major challenge. P. falciparum histidine-rich protein 2 (PfHRP2) is released by mature sequestered parasites and can be used to estimate the total parasite burden. We investigated the prognostic significance of plasma PfHRP2 and used it to estimate the malaria-attributable fraction in African children diagnosed with severe malaria.
Methods and Findings
Admission plasma PfHRP2 was measured prospectively in African children (from Mozambique, The Gambia, Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo) aged 1 month to 15 years with severe febrile illness and a positive P. falciparum lactate dehydrogenase (pLDH)-based rapid test in a clinical trial comparing parenteral artesunate versus quinine (the AQUAMAT trial, ISRCTN 50258054). In 3,826 severely ill children, Plasmadium falciparum PfHRP2 was higher in patients with coma (p = 0.0209), acidosis (p<0.0001), and severe anaemia (p<0.0001). Admission geometric mean (95%CI) plasma PfHRP2 was 1,611 (1,350–1,922) ng/mL in fatal cases (n = 381) versus 1,046 (991–1,104) ng/mL in survivors (n = 3,445, p<0.0001), without differences in parasitaemia as assessed by microscopy. There was a U-shaped association between log10 plasma PfHRP2 and risk of death. Mortality increased 20% per log10 increase in PfHRP2 above 174 ng/mL (adjusted odds ratio [AOR] 1.21, 95%CI 1.05–1.39, p = 0.009). A mechanistic model assuming a PfHRP2-independent risk of death in non-malaria illness closely fitted the observed data and showed malaria-attributable mortality less than 50% with plasma PfHRP2≤174 ng/mL. The odds ratio (OR) for death in artesunate versus quinine-treated patients was 0.61 (95%CI 0.44–0.83, p = 0.0018) in the highest PfHRP2 tertile, whereas there was no difference in the lowest tertile (OR 1.05; 95%CI 0.69–1.61; p = 0.82). A limitation of the study is that some conclusions are drawn from a mechanistic model, which is inherently dependent on certain assumptions. However, a sensitivity analysis of the model indicated that the results were robust to a plausible range of parameter estimates. Further studies are needed to validate our findings.
Conclusions
Plasma PfHRP2 has prognostic significance in African children with severe falciparum malaria and provides a tool to stratify the risk of “true” severe malaria-attributable disease as opposed to other severe illnesses in parasitaemic African children.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary.
Editors' Summary
Background
Malaria is a life-threatening disease caused by parasites that are transmitted to people through the bites of infected mosquitoes. In 2010, malaria caused an estimated 655,000 deaths worldwide, mostly in Africa, where according to the World Health Organization, one African child dies every minute from the disease. There are four Plasmodium parasite species that cause malaria in humans, with one species, Plasmodium falciparum, causing the most severe disease. However, diagnosing severe falciparum malaria in children living in endemic areas is problematic, as many semi-immune children may have the malaria parasites in their blood (described as being parasitaemic) but do not have clinical disease. Therefore, a positive malaria blood smear may be coincidental and not be diagnostic of severe malaria, and unfortunately, neither are the clinical symptoms of severe malaria, such as shock, acidosis, or coma, which can also be caused by other childhood infections. For these reasons, the misdiagnosis of falciparum malaria in severely ill children is an important problem in sub-Saharan Africa, and may result in unnecessary child deaths.
Why Was This Study Done?
Previous studies have suggested that a parasite protein—P. falciparum histidine-rich protein-2 (PfHRP2)—is a measure of the total number of parasites in the patient. Unlike the circulating parasites detected on a blood film, which do not represent the parasites that get stuck in vital organs, PfHRP2 is distributed equally through the total blood plasma volume, and so can be considered a measure of the total parasite burden in the previous 48 hours. So in this study, the researchers assessed the prognostic value of plasma PfHRP2 in African children with severe malaria and whether this protein could distinguish children who really do have severe malaria from those who have severe febrile illness but coincidental parasitaemia, who may have another infection.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers assessed levels of plasma PfHRP2 in 3,826 out of a possible 5,425 African children who participated in a large multinational trial (in Mozambique, The Gambia, Rwanda, Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, and the Democratic Republic of Congo) that compared the anti-malarial drugs quinine and artesunate for the treatment of severe malaria. All children had a clinical diagnosis of severe malaria confirmed by a rapid diagnostic test, and the researchers used clinical signs to define the severity of malaria. The researchers assessed the relationship between plasma PfHRP2 concentrations and risk of death taking other well established predictors of death, such as coma, convulsions, hypoglycaemia, respiratory distress, and shock, into account.
The researchers found that PfHRP2 was detectable in 3,800/3,826 (99%) children with severe malaria and that the average plasma PfHRP2 levels was significantly higher in the 381 children who died from malaria than in children who survived (1,611 ng/mL versus 1,046 ng/mL). Plasma PfHRP2 was also significantly higher in children with severe malaria signs and symptoms such as coma, acidosis, and severe anaemia. Importantly, the researchers found that high death rates were associated with either very low or very high values of plasma PfHRP2: the odds (chance) of death were 20% higher per unit increase in PfHRP2 above a specific threshold (174 ng/ml), but below this concentration, the risk of death increased with decreasing levels, probably because at lower levels disease was caused by a severe febrile disease other than malaria, like septicemia. Finally, the researchers found that in children within the highest PfHRP2 tertile, the chance of death when treated with the antimalarial drug artesunate versus quinine was 0.61 but that there was no difference in death rates in the lowest tertile, which supports that patients with very low plasma PfHRP2 have a different severe febrile illness than malaria. The researchers use mathematical modeling to provide cut-off values for plasma PfHRP2 denoting the proportion of patients with a diagnosis other than severe malaria.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings suggest that in areas of moderate or high malaria transmission where a high proportion of children are parasitaemic, plasma PfHRP2 levels taken on admission to hospital can differentiate children at highest risk of death from severe falciparum malaria from those likely to have alternative causes of severe febrile illness. Therefore, plasma PfHRP2 could be considered a valuable additional diagnostic tool and prognostic indicator in African children with severe falciparum malaria. This finding is important for clinicians treating children with severe febrile illnesses in malaria-endemic countries: while high levels of plasma PfHRP2 is indicative of severe malaria which needs urgent antimalarial treatment, low levels suggest that another severe infective disease should be considered, warranting additional investigations and urgent treatment with antibiotics.
Additional Information
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1001297.
A previous small study in PLOS ONE explores the relationship between plasma PfHRP2 and severe malaria in Tanzanian children
The WHO website and the website of Malaria No More have comprehensive information about malaria
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1001297
PMCID: PMC3424256  PMID: 22927801
4.  Net Benefits: A Multicountry Analysis of Observational Data Examining Associations between Insecticide-Treated Mosquito Nets and Health Outcomes 
PLoS Medicine  2011;8(9):e1001091.
Stephen Lim and colleagues report findings from a multi-country analysis of household survey data on the association between possession of insecticide-treated mosquito nets and child mortality and parasitemia. Scale-up of net coverage was associated with a substantial reduction in childhood mortality and in parasitemia prevalence.
Background
Several sub-Saharan African countries have rapidly scaled up the number of households that own insecticide-treated mosquito nets (ITNs). Although the efficacy of ITNs in trials has been shown, evidence on their impact under routine conditions is limited to a few countries and the extent to which the scale-up of ITNs has improved population health remains uncertain.
Methods and Findings
We used matched logistic regression to assess the individual-level association between household ITN ownership or use in children under 5 years of age and the prevalence of parasitemia among children using six malaria indicator surveys (MIS) and one demographic and health survey. We used Cox proportional hazards models to assess the relationship between ITN household ownership and child mortality using 29 demographic and health surveys. The pooled relative reduction in parasitemia prevalence from random effects meta-analysis associated with household ownership of at least one ITN was 20% (95% confidence interval [CI] 3%–35%; I2 = 73.5%, p<0.01 for I2 value). Sleeping under an ITN was associated with a pooled relative reduction in parasitemia prevalence in children of 24% (95% CI 1%–42%; I2 = 79.5%, p<0.001 for I2 value). Ownership of at least one ITN was associated with a pooled relative reduction in mortality between 1 month and 5 years of age of 23% (95% CI 13–31%; I2 = 25.6%, p>0.05 for I2 value).
Conclusions
Our findings across a number of sub-Saharan African countries were highly consistent with results from previous clinical trials. These findings suggest that the recent scale-up in ITN coverage has likely been accompanied by significant reductions in child mortality and that additional health gains could be achieved with further increases in ITN coverage in populations at risk of malaria.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Background
Malaria is a major public health problem. Half the world's population is at risk of this parasitic disease, which kills a million people (mainly children living in sub-Saharan Africa) every year. Malaria is transmitted to people through the bites of infected night-flying mosquitoes. Soon after entering the human body, the parasite begins to replicate in red blood cells, bursting out every 2–3 days and infecting more red blood cells. The presence of the parasite in the bloodstream (parasitemia) causes malaria's characteristic fever and can cause fatal organ damage. Malaria can be prevented by controlling the mosquitoes that spread the parasite and by owning and sleeping under insecticide-treated nets (ITNs) to avoid mosquito bites. In trials, ITN use reduced parasitemia in young children by about 13% and deaths among children by about 18%. Consequently, the widespread provision of ITNs is a mainstay of the World Health Organization's efforts to control malaria, and in 2005 the World Health Assembly agreed a target of providing ITNs for 80% of the people at risk of malaria by 2010.
Why Was This Study Done?
Although progress towards this goal has been variable, several sub-Saharan African countries have rapidly scaled up the fraction of households that own ITNs from near zero to more than 60% with the support of international donors. But has this scale-up of ITN coverage been accompanied by improvements in health outcomes similar to those seen in the trials of ITNs? ITNs may not work as well under routine conditions as in trials because of, for example, the use of nets that are no longer impregnated with active insecticide; nets have to be retreated regularly with insecticide to maintain their protection against mosquitoes. Unfortunately, in many countries in sub-Saharan Africa, health information systems are weak and incomplete records of deaths are kept, which makes it impossible to determine the rates of malaria-specific morbidity (illness) and mortality (deaths) accurately. In this study, the researchers use data collected in household surveys to examine the association between ITN ownership in a number of sub-Saharan African countries and two specific outcomes—the proportion of the population with parasitemia, and child mortality.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers used a statistical method to assess the association between household ITN ownership or use in young children and the prevalence of parasitemia among children using data from a set of household surveys. They looked specifically at the relationship between ITN household ownership and child mortality using data from 29 surveys undertaken in 22 sub-Saharan African countries. They then pooled the results of the individual surveys. The pooled relative reduction in parasitemia prevalence among children associated with household ownership of at least one ITN was 20%. That is, averaged out over the countries studied, household ITN ownership was associated with a reduction of around a fifth in the prevalence of parasitemia. The pooled relative reduction of parasitemia prevalence associated with children sleeping under an ITN was 24%. Finally, the pooled relative reduction in mortality between 1 month and 5 years old associated with household ITN ownership was 23%.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings suggest that the rapid scale-up in ITN coverage that has occurred in several sub-Saharan African countries has been accompanied by significant reductions in child deaths. Importantly, these findings are highly consistent with those from trials of ITNs. The accuracy of these findings may be affected by some aspects of the study design. For example, because the study uses observational data, it is possible that people who own ITNs share other characteristics that are actually responsible for the reduction in parasitemia prevalence and childhood deaths. Nevertheless, these findings add to the body of evidence that ITNs are effective in routine use. Thus, they support continued efforts to scale-up ITN coverage in sub-Saharan Africa and highlight the importance of maintaining ITN coverage in countries that have already successfully scaled up coverage.
Additional Information
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1001091.
The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation provides visualizations and datasets for a range of global health indicators including child mortality and insecticide treated bed net coverage
Information is available from the World Health Organization on malaria (in several languages); the 2010 World Malaria Report provides details of the current global malaria situation
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provide information on malaria and on insecticide-treated bed nets
The Roll Back Malaria Partnership provides information on the global control of malaria, malaria in Africa and insecticide-treated bed nets, and access to Malaria Indicator Survey datasets
Information is also available about the Demographic and Health Surveys
MedlinePlus provides links to additional information on malaria (in English and Spanish)
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1001091
PMCID: PMC3167799  PMID: 21909249
5.  An adjusted bed net coverage indicator with estimations for 23 African countries 
Malaria Journal  2013;12:457.
Background
Many studies have assessed the level of bed net coverage in populations at risk of malaria infection. These revealed large variations in bed net use across countries, regions and social strata. Such studies are often aimed at identifying populations with low access to bed nets that should be prioritized in future interventions. However, often spatial differences in malaria endemicity are not taken into account. By ignoring variability in malaria endemicity, these studies prioritize populations with little access to bed nets, even if these happen to live in low endemicity areas. Conversely, populations living in regions with high malaria endemicity will receive a lower priority once a seizable proportion is protected by bed nets. Adequately assigning priorities requires accounting for both the current level of bed net coverage and the local malaria endemicity. Indeed, as shown here for 23 African countries, there is no correlation between the level of bed net coverage and the level of malaria endemicity in a region. Therefore, the need for future interventions can not be assessed based on current bed net coverage alone. This paper proposes the Adjusted Bed net Coverage (ABC) statistic as a measure taking into account both local malaria endemicity and the level of bed net coverage. The measure allows setting priorities for future interventions taking into account both local malaria endemicity and bed net coverage.
Methods
A mathematical formulation of the ABC as a weighted difference of bed net coverage and malaria endemicity is presented. The formulation is parameterized based on a model of malaria epidemiology (Smith et al. Trends Parasitol 25:511-516, 2009). By parameterizing the ABC based on this model, the ABC as used in this paper is proxy for the steady-state malaria burden given the current level of bed net coverage. Data on the bed net coverage in under five year olds and malaria endemicity in 23 Sub-Saharan countries is used to show that the ABC prioritizes different populations than the level of bed net coverage by itself. Data from the following countries was used: Angola, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cameroon, Congo Democratic Republic, Ethiopia, Ghana, Guinea, Kenya, Liberia, Madagascar, Malawi, Mali, Mozambique, Namibia, Nigeria, Rwanda, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe. The priority order given by the ABC and the bed net coverage are compared at the countries’ level, the first level administrative divisions and for five different wealth quintiles.
Results
Both at national level and at the level of the administrative divisions the ABC suggests a different priority order for selecting countries and divisions for future interventions. When taking into account malaria endemicity, measures assessing equality in access to bed nets across wealth quintiles, such as slopes of inequality, are prone to change. This suggests that when assessing inequality in access to bed nets one should take into account the local malaria endemicity for populations from different wealth quintiles.
Conclusion
Accounting for malaria endemicity highlights different countries, regions and socio-economic strata for future intervention than the bed net coverage by itself. Therefore, care should be taken to factor out any effects of local malaria endemicity in assessing bed net coverage and in prioritizing populations for further scale-up of bed net coverage. The ABC is proposed as a simple means to do this that is derived from an existing model of malaria epidemiology.
doi:10.1186/1475-2875-12-457
PMCID: PMC4021220  PMID: 24359227
6.  Mapping the Risk of Anaemia in Preschool-Age Children: The Contribution of Malnutrition, Malaria, and Helminth Infections in West Africa 
PLoS Medicine  2011;8(6):e1000438.
Ricardo Soares Magalhães and colleagues used national cross-sectional household-based demographic health surveys to map the distribution of anemia risk in preschool children in Burkina Faso, Ghana, and Mali.
Background
Childhood anaemia is considered a severe public health problem in most countries of sub-Saharan Africa. We investigated the geographical distribution of prevalence of anaemia and mean haemoglobin concentration (Hb) in children aged 1–4 y (preschool children) in West Africa. The aim was to estimate the geographical risk profile of anaemia accounting for malnutrition, malaria, and helminth infections, the risk of anaemia attributable to these factors, and the number of anaemia cases in preschool children for 2011.
Methods and Findings
National cross-sectional household-based demographic health surveys were conducted in 7,147 children aged 1–4 y in Burkina Faso, Ghana, and Mali in 2003–2006. Bayesian geostatistical models were developed to predict the geographical distribution of mean Hb and anaemia risk, adjusting for the nutritional status of preschool children, the location of their residence, predicted Plasmodium falciparum parasite rate in the 2- to 10-y age group (Pf PR2–10), and predicted prevalence of Schistosoma haematobium and hookworm infections. In the four countries, prevalence of mild, moderate, and severe anaemia was 21%, 66%, and 13% in Burkina Faso; 28%, 65%, and 7% in Ghana, and 26%, 62%, and 12% in Mali. The mean Hb was lowest in Burkina Faso (89 g/l), in males (93 g/l), and for children 1–2 y (88 g/l). In West Africa, severe malnutrition, Pf PR2–10, and biological synergisms between S. haematobium and hookworm infections were significantly associated with anaemia risk; an estimated 36.8%, 14.9%, 3.7%, 4.2%, and 0.9% of anaemia cases could be averted by treating malnutrition, malaria, S. haematobium infections, hookworm infections, and S. haematobium/hookworm coinfections, respectively. A large spatial cluster of low mean Hb (<80 g/l) and maximal risk of anaemia (>95%) was predicted for an area shared by Burkina Faso and Mali. We estimate that in 2011, approximately 6.7 million children aged 1–4 y are anaemic in the three study countries.
Conclusions
By mapping the distribution of anaemia risk in preschool children adjusted for malnutrition and parasitic infections, we provide a means to identify the geographical limits of anaemia burden and the contribution that malnutrition and parasites make to anaemia. Spatial targeting of ancillary micronutrient supplementation and control of other anaemia causes, such as malaria and helminth infection, can contribute to efficiently reducing the burden of anaemia in preschool children in Africa.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Background
Global estimates for the time period 1993–2005 suggest that that worldwide, nearly 300 million children had anemia, that is, hemoglobin levels less than 110 g/l. In sub-Saharan Africa, two-thirds of all children were anemic, representing 83.5 million children. These statistics are important because anemia in infancy and childhood is associated with poor cognitive development, reduced growth, problems with immune function—and ultimately, decreased survival. Malnutrition (including micronutrient deficiency, especially of iron, vitamin A, vitamin C, and folate), undernutrition, and infectious diseases, particularly HIV, malaria, and helminth infections (caused by hookworm and Schistosoma haematobium—which causes urinary schistosomiasis), are major causes of anemia in children. Although iron supplementation can often correct anemia, in some circumstances, iron deficiency can protect against common infectious agents, and giving iron can, on occasion, increase the severity of infectious disease in some children. Focusing on the treatment and prevention of infectious diseases that cause anemia is therefore an important alternative strategy in the treatment of anemia.
Why Was This Study Done?
Control tools for targeting interventions for malaria and helminth infection in sub-Saharan Africa include modern spatial risk prediction methods that combine statistical models with geographical information systems (similar to those used in car navigation systems). However, to date no studies have used these tools to spatially predict the risk of anemia. Furthermore, the contribution that malnutrition and infections make to the overall anemia burden in Africa is largely unknown. In this study the researchers used these tools to predict the prevalence of anemia in three West African countries and to estimate the attributable risk of anemia due to malnutrition, malaria, and helminth infections.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers used geographically linked data from the most recent Demographic and Health Surveys (DHS) in Burkina Faso (2003), Ghana (2003), and Mali (2006), which included capillary blood sampling and testing and detailed anthropometric (height and weight) measurements. A total of 7,147 children aged 1–4 years (3,477 girls and 3,670 boys) in the three countries were included in the analysis. The researchers mapped DHS survey locations in the three study countries using DHS cluster coordinates in a geographic information system. Using data from the Malaria Atlas Project, the researchers extracted spatially predicted values of Plasmodium falciparum parasite rate for each DHS cluster using a geographical information system and used previously reported parasitological survey data of hookworm and S. haematobium infections to predict helminth infection risk across the region. Then the researchers developed spatial prediction models using Bayesian statistics to estimate of the population attributable fraction for specific predictors for anemia. Data from the DHS showed that the prevalence of mild, moderate, and severe anemia was 21%, 66%, and 13% in Burkina Faso; 28%, 65%, and 7% in Ghana, and 26%, 62%, and 12% in Mali. The prevalence of stunting, wasting, and being underweight in the study area was 87.8%, 89.7%, and 71.2%, respectively, and the mean P. falciparum parasite rate, and rates of S. haematobium infection, hookworm infection, and S. haematobium/hookworm coinfection for the study area were 52.0%, 26.8%, 8.2%, and 3.6%, respectively. The overall results indicate that in the three countries, approximately 6.7 million children aged 1–4 years have anemia. Severe malnutrition, P. falciparum infection, hookworm infection, S. haematobium infection, and hookworm/S. haematobium coinfection were responsible for an estimated 2.5 million, 1.0 million, 250,000, 285,000, and 61,000 anemia cases, respectively. Central Burkina Faso and southern Ghana had the highest number of anemic children.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These results add insight and detail to anemia prevalence and anemia severity within different geographical areas in three West African countries. The combination of anemia and mean hemoglobin predictive maps identifies communities in West Africa where preschool-age children are at increased risk of morbidity. The use of anemia maps has important practical implications for targeted control in these countries, such as guiding the efficient allocation of nutrient supplements and fortified foods, and enabling risk assessment of anemia due to different causes, which would in turn constitute an evidence base to calculate the best balance between interventions.
Additional Information
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1000438.
This study is further discussed in a PLoS Medicine Perspective by Abdisalan Noor
The WHO Web site has comprehensive information on the worldwide prevalence of anemia
More information on Demographic Health Surveys is available
More information on global predictions of malaria is available
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1000438
PMCID: PMC3110251  PMID: 21687688
7.  Risk Factors for Death among Children Less than 5 Years Old Hospitalized with Diarrhea in Rural Western Kenya, 2005–2007: A Cohort Study 
PLoS Medicine  2012;9(7):e1001256.
A hospital-based surveillance study conducted by Ciara O'Reilly and colleagues describes the risk factors for death amongst children who have been hospitalized with diarrhea in rural Kenya.
Background
Diarrhea is a leading cause of childhood morbidity and mortality in sub-Saharan Africa. Data on risk factors for mortality are limited. We conducted hospital-based surveillance to characterize the etiology of diarrhea and identify risk factors for death among children hospitalized with diarrhea in rural western Kenya.
Methods and Findings
We enrolled all children <5 years old, hospitalized with diarrhea (≥3 loose stools in 24 hours) at two district hospitals in Nyanza Province, western Kenya. Clinical and demographic information was collected. Stool specimens were tested for bacterial and viral pathogens. Bivariate and multivariable logistic regression analyses were carried out to identify risk factors for death. From May 23, 2005 to May 22, 2007, 1,146 children <5 years old were enrolled; 107 (9%) children died during hospitalization. Nontyphoidal Salmonella were identified in 10% (118), Campylobacter in 5% (57), and Shigella in 4% (42) of 1,137 stool samples; rotavirus was detected in 19% (196) of 1,021 stool samples. Among stools from children who died, nontyphoidal Salmonella were detected in 22%, Shigella in 11%, rotavirus in 9%, Campylobacter in 5%, and S. Typhi in <1%. In multivariable analysis, infants who died were more likely to have nontyphoidal Salmonella (adjusted odds ratio [aOR] = 6·8; 95% CI 3·1–14·9), and children <5 years to have Shigella (aOR = 5·5; 95% CI 2·2–14·0) identified than children who survived. Children who died were less likely to be infected with rotavirus (OR = 0·4; 95% CI 0·2–0·8). Further risk factors for death included being malnourished (aOR = 4·2; 95% CI 2·1–8·7); having oral thrush on physical exam (aOR = 2·3; 95% CI 1·4–3·8); having previously sought care at a hospital for the illness (aOR = 2·2; 95% CI 1·2–3·8); and being dehydrated as diagnosed at discharge/death (aOR = 2·5; 95% CI 1·5–4·1). A clinical diagnosis of malaria, and malaria parasites seen on blood smear, were not associated with increased risk of death. This study only captured in-hospital childhood deaths, and likely missed a substantial number of additional deaths that occurred at home.
Conclusion
Nontyphoidal Salmonella and Shigella are associated with mortality among rural Kenyan children with diarrhea who access a hospital. Improved prevention and treatment of diarrheal disease is necessary. Enhanced surveillance and simplified laboratory diagnostics in Africa may assist clinicians in appropriately treating potentially fatal diarrheal illness.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Background
Diarrhea—passing three or more loose or liquid stools per day—kills about 1.5 million young children every year, mainly in low- and middle-income countries. Globally, it is the second leading cause of death in under-5-year olds, causing nearly one in five child deaths. Diarrhea, which can lead to life-threatening dehydration, is a common symptom of gastrointestinal infections. The pathogens (viruses, bacteria, and parasites) that cause diarrhea spread through contaminated food or drinking water, and from person to person through poor hygiene and inadequate sanitation (unsafe disposal of human excreta). Interventions that prevent diarrhea include improvements in water supplies, sanitation and hygiene, the promotion of breast feeding, and vaccination against rotavirus (a major viral cause of diarrhea). Treatments for diarrhea include oral rehydration salts, which prevent and treat dehydration, zinc supplementation, which decreases the severity and duration of diarrhea, and the use of appropriate antibiotics when indicated for severe bacterial diarrhea.
Why Was This Study Done?
Nearly half of deaths from diarrhea among young children occur in Africa where diarrhea is the single largest cause of death among under 5-year-olds and a major cause of childhood illness. Unfortunately, although some of the risk factors for death from diarrhea in children in sub-Saharan Africa have been identified (for example, having other illnesses, poor nutrition, and not being breastfed), little is known about the relative contributions of different diarrhea-causing pathogens to diarrheal deaths. Clinicians need to know which of these pathogens are most likely to cause death in children so that they can manage their patients appropriately. In this cohort study, the researchers characterize the causes and risk factors associated with death among young children hospitalized for diarrhea in Nyanza Province, western Kenya, an area where most households have no access to safe drinking water and a quarter lack latrines. In a cohort study, a group of people with a specific condition is observed to identify which factors lead to different outcomes.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers enrolled all the children under 5 years old who were hospitalized over a two-year period for diarrhea at two district hospitals in Nyanza Province, tested their stool samples for diarrhea-causing viral and bacterial pathogens, and recorded which patients died in-hospital. They then used multivariable regression analysis (a statistical method) to determine which risk factors and diarrheal pathogens were associated with death among the children. During the study, 1,146 children were hospitalized, 107 of whom died in the hospital. 10% of all the stool samples contained nontyphoidal Salmonella, 4% contained Shigella (two types of diarrhea-causing bacteria), and 19% contained rotavirus. By contrast, 22% of the samples taken from children who died contained nontyphoidal Salmonella, 11% contained Shigella, 9% contained rotavirus, and 5% contained Campylobacter (another bacterial pathogen that causes diarrhea). Compared to survivors, infants (children under 1 year of age) who died were nearly seven times more likely to have nontyphoidal Salmonella in their stools and children under 5 years old who died were five and half times more likely to have Shigella in their stools but less likely to have rotavirus in their stools. Other factors associated with death included being malnourished, having oral thrush (a fungal infection of the mouth), having previously sought hospital care for diarrhea, and being dehydrated.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings indicate that, among young children admitted to the hospital in western Kenya with diarrhea, infections with nontyphoidal Salmonella and with Shigella (but not with rotavirus) were associated with an increased risk of death. Because this study only captured deaths in hospital and most diarrheal deaths in developing countries occur at home, these results may not accurately reflect the pathogens associated with overall childhood diarrheal deaths. In addition, they may not be generalizable to other geographical regions. Nevertheless, given that that there are currently no vaccines available for most bacterial diarrheal diseases, these findings highlight the importance of Kenya and other developing countries implementing effective strategies for the prevention and management of diarrheal diseases in children such as increasing access to improved water, sanitation, and hygiene, and community-level promotion of the use of oral rehydration solution and zinc supplements. They also suggest that enhanced surveillance and simplified laboratory diagnostics for diarrheal pathogens could help clinicians identify those children presenting to hospital with diarrhea who are at high risk of death and prioritize their treatment.
Additional Information
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1001256.
The World Health Organization provides information on diarrhea (in several languages); its 2009 report with UNICEF Diarrhea: why children are still dying and what can be done, which includes the WHO/UNICEF recommendations for the treatment and prevention of diarrhea in children, can be downloaded from the Internet
The children's charity UNICEF, which protects the rights of children and young people around the world, provides information on diarrhea (in several languages)
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1001256
PMCID: PMC3389023  PMID: 22802736
8.  Measuring Adult Mortality Using Sibling Survival: A New Analytical Method and New Results for 44 Countries, 1974–2006 
PLoS Medicine  2010;7(4):e1000260.
Julie Rajaratnam and colleagues describe a novel method, called the Corrected Sibling Survival method, to measure adult mortality in countries without good vital registration by use of histories taken from surviving siblings.
Background
For several decades, global public health efforts have focused on the development and application of disease control programs to improve child survival in developing populations. The need to reliably monitor the impact of such intervention programs in countries has led to significant advances in demographic methods and data sources, particularly with large-scale, cross-national survey programs such as the Demographic and Health Surveys (DHS). Although no comparable effort has been undertaken for adult mortality, the availability of large datasets with information on adult survival from censuses and household surveys offers an important opportunity to dramatically improve our knowledge about levels and trends in adult mortality in countries without good vital registration. To date, attempts to measure adult mortality from questions in censuses and surveys have generally led to implausibly low levels of adult mortality owing to biases inherent in survey data such as survival and recall bias. Recent methodological developments and the increasing availability of large surveys with information on sibling survival suggest that it may well be timely to reassess the pessimism that has prevailed around the use of sibling histories to measure adult mortality.
Methods and Findings
We present the Corrected Sibling Survival (CSS) method, which addresses both the survival and recall biases that have plagued the use of survey data to estimate adult mortality. Using logistic regression, our method directly estimates the probability of dying in a given country, by age, sex, and time period from sibling history data. The logistic regression framework borrows strength across surveys and time periods for the estimation of the age patterns of mortality, and facilitates the implementation of solutions for the underrepresentation of high-mortality families and recall bias. We apply the method to generate estimates of and trends in adult mortality, using the summary measure 45q15—the probability of a 15-y old dying before his or her 60th birthday—for 44 countries with DHS sibling survival data. Our findings suggest that levels of adult mortality prevailing in many developing countries are substantially higher than previously suggested by other analyses of sibling history data. Generally, our estimates show the risk of adult death between ages 15 and 60 y to be about 20%–35% for females and 25%–45% for males in sub-Saharan African populations largely unaffected by HIV. In countries of Southern Africa, where the HIV epidemic has been most pronounced, as many as eight out of ten men alive at age 15 y will be dead by age 60, as will six out of ten women. Adult mortality levels in populations of Asia and Latin America are generally lower than in Africa, particularly for women. The exceptions are Haiti and Cambodia, where mortality risks are comparable to many countries in Africa. In all other countries with data, the probability of dying between ages 15 and 60 y was typically around 10% for women and 20% for men, not much higher than the levels prevailing in several more developed countries.
Conclusions
Our results represent an expansion of direct knowledge of levels and trends in adult mortality in the developing world. The CSS method provides grounds for renewed optimism in collecting sibling survival data. We suggest that all nationally representative survey programs with adequate sample size ought to implement this critical module for tracking adult mortality in order to more reliably understand the levels and patterns of adult mortality, and how they are changing.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Background
Governments and international health agencies need accurate information on births and deaths in populations to help them plan health care policies and monitor the effectiveness of public-health programs designed, for example, to prevent premature deaths from preventable causes such as tobacco smoking. In developed countries, full information on births and deaths is recorded in “vital registration systems.” Unfortunately, very few developing countries have complete vital registration systems. In most African countries, for example, less than one-quarter of deaths are counted through vital registration systems. To fill this information gap, scientists have developed several methods to estimate mortality levels (the proportion of deaths in populations) and trends in mortality (how the proportion of deaths in populations changes over time) from data collected in household surveys and censuses. A household survey collects data about family members (for example, number, age, and sex) for a national sample of households randomly selected from a list of households collected in a census (a periodic count of a population).
Why Was This Study Done?
To date, global public-health efforts have concentrated on improving child survival. Consequently, methods for calculating child mortality levels and trends from surveys are well-developed and generally yield accurate estimates. By contrast, although attempts have been made to measure adult mortality using sibling survival histories (records of the sex, age if alive, or age at death, if dead, of all the children born to survey respondents' mothers that are collected in many household surveys), these attempts have often produced implausibly low estimates of adult mortality. These low estimates arise because people do not always recall deaths accurately when questioned (recall bias) and because families that have fallen apart, possibly because of family deaths, are underrepresented in household surveys (selection bias). In this study, the researchers develop a corrected sibling survival (CSS) method that addresses the problems of selection and recall bias and use their method to estimate mortality levels and trends in 44 developing countries between 1974 and 2006.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers used a statistical approach called logistic regression to develop the CSS method. They then used the method to estimate the probability of a 15-year-old dying before his or her 60th birthday from sibling survival data collected by the Demographic and Health Surveys program (DHS, a project started in 1984 to help developing countries collect data on population and health trends). Levels of adult mortality estimated in this way were considerably higher than those suggested by previous analyses of sibling history data. For example, the risk of adult death between the ages of 15 and 60 years was 20%–35% for women and 25%–45% for men living in sub-Saharan African countries largely unaffected by HIV and 60% for women and 80% for men living in countries in Southern Africa where the HIV epidemic is worst. Importantly, the researchers show that their mortality level estimates compare well to those obtained from vital registration data and other data sources where available. So, for example, in the Philippines, adult mortality levels estimated using the CSS method were similar to those obtained from vital registration data. Finally, the researchers used the CSS method to estimate mortality trends. These calculations reveal, for example, that there has been a 3–4-fold increase in adult mortality since the late 1980s in Zimbabwe, a country badly affected by the HIV epidemic.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings suggest that the CSS method, which applies a correction for both selection and recall bias, yields more accurate estimates of adult mortality in developing countries from sibling survival data than previous methods. Given their findings, the researchers suggest that sibling survival histories should be routinely collected in all future household survey programs and, if possible, these surveys should be expanded so that all respondents are asked about sibling histories—currently the DHS only collects sibling histories from women aged 15–49 years. Widespread collection of such data and their analysis using the CSS method, the researchers conclude, would help governments and international agencies track trends in adult mortality and progress toward major health and development targets.
Additional Information
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1000260.
This study and two related PLoS Medicine Research Articles by Rajaratnam et al. and by Murray et al. are further discussed in a PLoS Medicine Perspective by Mathers and Boerma
Information is available about the Demographic and Health Surveys
The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation makes available high-quality information on population health, its determinants, and the performance of health systems
Grand Challenges in Global Health provides information on research into better ways for developing countries to measure their health status
The World Health Organization Statistical Information System (WHOSIS) is an interactive database that brings together core health statistics for WHO member states, including information on vital registration of deaths; the WHO Health Metrics Network is a global collaboration focused on improving sources of vital statistics
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1000260
PMCID: PMC2854132  PMID: 20405004
9.  Unacceptably High Mortality Related to Measles Epidemics in Niger, Nigeria, and Chad 
PLoS Medicine  2007;4(1):e16.
Background
Despite the comprehensive World Health Organization (WHO)/United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) measles mortality–reduction strategy and the Measles Initiative, a partnership of international organizations supporting measles mortality reduction in Africa, certain high-burden countries continue to face recurrent epidemics. To our knowledge, few recent studies have documented measles mortality in sub-Saharan Africa. The objective of our study was to investigate measles mortality in three recent epidemics in Niamey (Niger), N'Djamena (Chad), and Adamawa State (Nigeria).
Methods and Findings
We conducted three exhaustive household retrospective mortality surveys in one neighbourhood of each of the three affected areas: Boukoki, Niamey, Niger (April 2004, n = 26,795); Moursal, N'Djamena, Chad (June 2005, n = 21,812); and Dong District, Adamawa State, Nigeria (April 2005, n = 16,249), where n is the total surveyed population in each of the respective areas. Study populations included all persons resident for at least 2 wk prior to the study, a duration encompassing the measles incubation period. Heads of households provided information on measles cases, clinical outcomes up to 30 d after rash onset, and health-seeking behaviour during the epidemic. Measles cases and deaths were ascertained using standard WHO surveillance-case definitions. Our main outcome measures were measles attack rates (ARs) and case fatality ratios (CFRs) by age group, and descriptions of measles complications and health-seeking behaviour. Measles ARs were the highest in children under 5 y old (under 5 y): 17.1% in Boukoki, 17.2% in Moursal, and 24.3% in Dong District. CFRs in under 5-y-olds were 4.6%, 4.0%, and 10.8% in Boukoki, Moursal, and Dong District, respectively. In all sites, more than half of measles cases in children aged under 5 y experienced acute respiratory infection and/or diarrhoea in the 30 d following rash onset. Of measles cases, it was reported that 85.7% (979/1,142) of patients visited a health-care facility within 30 d after rash onset in Boukoki, 73.5% (519/706) in Moursal, and 52.8% (603/1,142) in Dong District.
Conclusions
Children in these countries still face unacceptably high mortality from a completely preventable disease. While the successes of measles mortality–reduction strategies and progress observed in measles control in other countries of the region are laudable and evident, they should not overshadow the need for intensive efforts in countries that have just begun implementation of the WHO/UNICEF comprehensive strategy.
Three household retrospective mortality surveys in parts of West Africa affected by recent measles epidemics found that, despite progress made elsewhere, mortality rates remain unacceptably high.
Editors' Summary
Background.
In most developed countries, measles is often now regarded as an uncommon and not very serious childhood illness. The situation in developing countries is totally different; many children get measles, and the consequences can be severe. The main factor accounting for this difference is the much greater availability of vaccination against measles in developed countries. Globally, approximately 410,000 children under the age of 5 y die of measles each year. In developing countries, the death rate among children with measles is 1%–5%, but in refugee situations and among malnourished children, it may reach 10%–30%. The complications of the disease include pneumonia, diarrhea, encephalitis, and corneal scarring, which can lead to blindness. It costs less than US$1 to vaccinate a child against measles but, tragically, it remains the leading cause of vaccine-preventable death among children.
Why Was This Study Done?
There are many national and international initiatives intended to improve measles vaccination rates, and in many developing countries things are improving; measles death rates in Africa as a whole are believed to be less than half of what they were 10 y ago. However, in certain countries—for example in West Africa—serious measles epidemics do still occur. It has been some years since any major studies have been conducted to try to establish how many children die during these epidemics. It is important to know this in order to help with efforts to improve the situation.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
They focused on three epidemics of measles in West Africa and their impact on one neighborhood in each of three countries that were severely affected: Chad, Niger, and Nigeria. The total population of these neighborhoods was more than 64,000. The researchers spoke to the heads of households and asked for information about measles cases. They recorded details of symptoms of children who were taken ill during the epidemic and the outcome, including deaths. They also noted what action families took when children had measles. The percentage of children who developed measles was around 17% in the neighborhoods in Chad and Niger, and 24% in the Nigerian neighborhood. The death rate among the children who had measles was around 4% in Chad and Niger, and 11% in Nigeria. Most parents took their children to a health-care facility within 30 d of a rash appearing but this varied: 86% did so in Chad, 74% in Niger, and 53% in Nigeria.
What Do These Findings Mean?
Children in these countries still face an unacceptably high risk of death from a completely preventable disease. Much more needs to be done to increase the number of children who are vaccinated.
Additional Information.
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.0040016
Wikipedia information on measles (note that Wikipedia is an online encyclopedia that anyone can edit)
More detailed information on measles may be obtained from MedlinePlus and the World Health Organization
Information about the Measles Initiative
For information about the three countries in this study, consult their country profiles on the BBC website: Chad, Niger, and Nigeria.
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.0040016
PMCID: PMC1761051  PMID: 17199407
10.  Neonatal Mortality Risk Associated with Preterm Birth in East Africa, Adjusted by Weight for Gestational Age: Individual Participant Level Meta-Analysis 
PLoS Medicine  2012;9(8):e1001292.
In an analysis of four datasets from East Africa, Tanya Marchant and colleagues investigate the neonatal mortality risk associated with preterm birth and how this changes with weight for gestational age.
Background
Low birth weight and prematurity are amongst the strongest predictors of neonatal death. However, the extent to which they act independently is poorly understood. Our objective was to estimate the neonatal mortality risk associated with preterm birth when stratified by weight for gestational age in the high mortality setting of East Africa.
Methods and Findings
Members and collaborators of the Malaria and the MARCH Centers, at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, were contacted and protocols reviewed for East African studies that measured (1) birth weight, (2) gestational age at birth using antenatal ultrasound or neonatal assessment, and (3) neonatal mortality. Ten datasets were identified and four met the inclusion criteria. The four datasets (from Uganda, Kenya, and two from Tanzania) contained 5,727 births recorded between 1999–2010. 4,843 births had complete outcome data and were included in an individual participant level meta-analysis. 99% of 445 low birth weight (<2,500 g) babies were either preterm (<37 weeks gestation) or small for gestational age (below tenth percentile of weight for gestational age). 52% of 87 neonatal deaths occurred in preterm or small for gestational age babies. Babies born <34 weeks gestation had the highest odds of death compared to term babies (odds ratio [OR] 58.7 [95% CI 28.4–121.4]), with little difference when stratified by weight for gestational age. Babies born 34–36 weeks gestation with appropriate weight for gestational age had just three times the likelihood of neonatal death compared to babies born term, (OR 3.2 [95% CI 1.0–10.7]), but the likelihood for babies born 34–36 weeks who were also small for gestational age was 20 times higher (OR 19.8 [95% CI 8.3–47.4]). Only 1% of babies were born moderately premature and small for gestational age, but this group suffered 8% of deaths. Individual level data on newborns are scarce in East Africa; potential biases arising due to the non-systematic selection of the individual studies, or due to the methods applied for estimating gestational age, are discussed.
Conclusions
Moderately preterm babies who are also small for gestational age experience a considerably increased likelihood of neonatal death in East Africa.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary.
Editors' Summary
Background
Worldwide, every year around 3.3 million babies die within their first month of life and the proportion of under-five child deaths that are now in the neonatal period (the first 28 days of life) has increased in all regions of the world and is currently estimated at 41%. Of these deaths, over 90% occur in low- and middle-income countries, and a third of all neonatal deaths occur in sub-Saharan Africa. Low birth weight (defined as <2,500 g) is one of the biggest risk factors associated with neonatal deaths but it is the causes of low birth weight, rather than the low weight itself that is thought to lead to neonatal deaths. The two main causes of low birth weight are preterm birth (delivery before 37 weeks gestation) and/or restricted growth in the womb (intra-uterine growth retardation), resulting in babies who are small for their dates (defined as being in the lowest 10% of weight expected for gestational age with reference to a US population).
Why Was This Study Done?
Despite growing international attention focused on neonatal mortality in recent years, the relative importance of low birth weight, small for gestational age, and preterm birth in causing newborn deaths remains unclear. So in this study, the researchers investigated these relationships by calculating the risk of neonatal mortality associated with preterm birth after adjusting for weight for gestational age by conducting a meta-analysis (synthesis of the data) using information from studies reporting neonatal mortality conducted in sub-Saharan Africa.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers identified potential African datasets and selected four out of a possible ten to include in their analysis as these studies included three essential birth outcomes: birth weight; gestational age measured using antenatal ultrasound, or neonatal assessment on the day of birth; and neonatal mortality. These four studies were conducted in Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda, all in East Africa. The researchers analysed each study separately but also conducted a pooled statistical analysis on all four studies. To give a more detailed analysis, the researchers categorized babies into six groups taking into account whether the babies were moderately preterm (born at 34–36 weeks) or very preterm (born before 34 weeks) and whether their weight was appropriate for their gestational age.
The researchers included a total of 4,843 live births in their analysis and found that overall, 9.2% of babies were low birth weight, 4.0% were preterm, and 20.4% were small for gestational age. Amongst low birth weight babies, 26.1% were preterm, 85.0% were small for gestational age, and 98.8% were either preterm or small for gestational age. In their detailed analysis, the researchers found that the odds (chance) of death in the first 28 days of life were seven times higher for babies born low birth weight compared to those with normal birth weight, with low birth weight infants experiencing a neonatal mortality rate of 80.9/1,000 live births. The odds of death were twice as high for babies born small for gestational age compared to those born appropriate for gestational age, giving a neonatal mortality rate of 29.3/1,000 live births. Furthermore, compared to those born at term, the odds of death were over six times higher for babies born moderately preterm and almost 60 times higher for babies born very preterm with almost half of all very preterm babies dying in the first 28 days of life, giving a neonatal mortality rate 473.6/1,000 live births. However, moderately preterm babies who were small for gestational age had a much greater odds of death than moderately preterm babies who were of the appropriate weight for their gestational age.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings from East Africa show that babies born either small for gestational age or preterm contributed 52% of neonatal deaths. The detailed analysis suggests that babies born preterm are at the greatest risk of death, but size for gestational age also plays an important role especially in moderately preterm babies. The results from this study emphasize the pressing need to find ways to prevent preterm delivery and intra-uterine growth retardation and also illustrate the importance of measuring and reporting outcomes of individual babies.
Additional Information
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1001292.
A recent PLOS Medicine study by Oestergaard et al. has the latest global figures on neonatal mortality
UNICEF provides information on neonatal mortality
The World Health Organization (WHO) provides factsheets on the causes of neonatal mortality, including preterm birth
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1001292
PMCID: PMC3419185  PMID: 22904691
11.  Estimating the Number of Paediatric Fevers Associated with Malaria Infection Presenting to Africa's Public Health Sector in 2007 
PLoS Medicine  2010;7(7):e1000301.
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.
Background
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).
Conclusions
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
Editors' Summary
Background
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.
Additional Information
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
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1000301
PMCID: PMC2897768  PMID: 20625548
12.  Intermittent Preventive Treatment of Malaria Provides Substantial Protection against Malaria in Children Already Protected by an Insecticide-Treated Bednet in Burkina Faso: A Randomised, Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled Trial 
PLoS Medicine  2011;8(2):e1000408.
A randomized trial reported by Diadier Diallo and colleagues shows that intermittent preventive treatment for malaria in children who are protected from mosquitoes using insecticide-treated bednets provides substantial protection from malaria.
Background
Intermittent preventive treatment of malaria in children (IPTc) is a promising new approach to the control of malaria in areas of seasonal malaria transmission but it is not known if IPTc adds to the protection provided by an insecticide-treated net (ITN).
Methods and Findings
An individually randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial of seasonal IPTc was conducted in Burkina Faso in children aged 3 to 59 months who were provided with a long-lasting insecticide-treated bednet (LLIN). Three rounds of treatment with sulphadoxine pyrimethamine plus amodiaquine or placebos were given at monthly intervals during the malaria transmission season. Passive surveillance for malaria episodes was established, a cross-sectional survey was conducted at the end of the malaria transmission season, and use of ITNs was monitored during the intervention period. Incidence rates of malaria were compared using a Cox regression model and generalized linear models were fitted to examine the effect of IPTc on the prevalence of malaria infection, anaemia, and on anthropometric indicators. 3,052 children were screened and 3,014 were enrolled in the trial; 1,505 in the control arm and 1,509 in the intervention arm. Similar proportions of children in the two treatment arms were reported to sleep under an LLIN during the intervention period (93%). The incidence of malaria, defined as fever or history of fever with parasitaemia ≥5,000/µl, was 2.88 (95% confidence interval [CI] 2.70–3.06) per child during the intervention period in the control arm versus 0.87 (95% CI 0.78–0.97) in the intervention arm, a protective efficacy (PE) of 70% (95% CI 66%–74%) (p<0.001). There was a 69% (95% CI 6%–90%) reduction in incidence of severe malaria (p = 0.04) and a 46% (95% CI 7%–69%) (p = 0.03) reduction in the incidence of all-cause hospital admissions. IPTc reduced the prevalence of malaria infection at the end of the malaria transmission season by 73% (95% CI 68%–77%) (p<0.001) and that of moderately severe anaemia by 56% (95% CI 36%–70%) (p<0.001). IPTc reduced the risks of wasting (risk ratio [RR] = 0.79; 95% CI 0.65–1.00) (p = 0.05) and of being underweight (RR = 0.84; 95% CI 0.72–0.99) (p = 0.03). Children who received IPTc were 2.8 (95% CI 2.3–3.5) (p<0.001) times more likely to vomit than children who received placebo but no drug-related serious adverse event was recorded.
Conclusions
IPT of malaria provides substantial protection against malaria in children who sleep under an ITN. There is now strong evidence to support the integration of IPTc into malaria control strategies in areas of seasonal malaria transmission.
Trial Registration
ClinicalTrials.gov NCT00738946
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Background
Malaria accounts for one in five of all childhood deaths in Africa and of the one million annual malarial deaths world-wide, over 75% occur in African children under 5 years old. Malaria also causes severe morbidity in children, such as anemia, low birth weight, and neurological problems, which compromise the health and development of millions of children living in malaria endemic areas. As much of the impact of malaria on African children can be effectively prevented, significant efforts have been made in recent years to improve malaria control, such as the implementation of intermittent preventive treatment of malaria.
Intermittent preventive treatment (IPT) involves administration of antimalarial drugs at defined time intervals to individuals, regardless of whether they are known to be infected with malaria, to prevent morbidity and mortality. IPT was initially recommended for pregnant women and recently this strategy was extended to include infants (IPTi). Now, there is also IPT of malaria in children (IPTc), which is designed to protect against malaria during the high malaria transmission season.
Why Was This Study Done?
Large clinical trials have shown that IPTc involving the administration of two to three doses of an antimalarial drug (sulphadoxine pyrimethamine [SP] and artesunate [AS] or amodiaquine [AQ]) during the high malaria transmission season effectively reduces the incidence of malaria. However, these studies were conducted in countries where the use of insecticide-treated bednets—an intervention that provides at least 50% protection against morbidity from malaria and is the main tool used for malaria control in most of sub-Saharan Africa—was relatively low. Therefore, it is unclear whether IPTc will be as effective in children who sleep under insecticide-treated bednets as has been previously shown in communities where insecticide-treated bednet usage is low. So to determine the answer to this important question, the researchers conducted a randomized, placebo-controlled trial of IPTc with SP + AQ (chosen because of the effectiveness of this combination in a pilot study) in children who slept under an insecticide-treated bednet in an area of seasonal malaria transmission in Burkina Faso.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers enrolled 3,014 eligible children aged 3–59 months into a randomized double-blind, placebo-controlled trial during the 2008 malaria transmission season in Burkina Faso. All children were given a long-lasting insecticide-treated bednet at the start of the study with instructions to their family on the correct use of the net. Children were then randomized into two arms—1,509 were allocated to the intervention group and 1,505 to the control group—to receive three courses of IPTc with SP plus AQ or placebos given at monthly intervals during the peak malaria transmission season. The researchers monitored the incidence of malaria throughout the malaria season and also monitored the use of long-lasting insecticide-treated bednets throughout the study period. In addition, researchers conducted a cross-sectional survey in 150 randomly selected children every week and in every child enrolled in the trial 6 weeks after the last course of IPTc, to measure their temperature, height and weight, and blood hemoglobin and parasite count levels.
The number of children who slept under their long-lasting insecticide-treated bednet was similar in both arms. During the intervention period, the researchers found that the incidence of clinical malaria (defined as fever or a history of fever and the presence of at least 5,000 asexual forms of P. falciparum per microliter) was 2.88 in the control arm versus 0.87 in the intervention arm—giving a protective efficacy of 70%. There were 13 cases of severe malaria in the control arm and four in the IPTc arm—a 69% reduction in incidence. Additionally, all-cause hospital admission rate was reduced by 46%. At the end of the malaria transmission period, IPTc reduced the proportion of children infected with malaria parasites by 73% and reduced anemia by 33%. In addition, IPTc appeared to reduce the risk of wasting (risk ratio  = 0.79) and of being underweight (risk ratio  = 0.84). However, children who received IPTc were almost three times more likely to vomit than children who received placebo but there were no drug-related serious adverse events.
What Do These Findings Mean?
The results of this study show that in peak malarial transmission season in Burkina Faso, IPTc provides substantial additional protection against episodes of clinical malaria, severe malaria, and all-cause hospital admissions in children sleeping under long-lasting insecticide-treated bednets. In addition, intermittent preventive treatment of malaria with SP plus AQ appears to be safe for use in children.
Additional Information
Please access these websites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1000408.
This topic is further discussed in two PLoS Medicine research articles: Dicko et al. and Bojang et al., and in a PLoS Medicine Perspective by Beeson
Roll Back Malaria has information about malaria in children, including intervention strategies
UNICEF also provides comprehensive information about malaria in children
The Intermittent Preventive Treatment in Infants Consortium (ipti) provides information on intermittent preventive treatment in infants
Roll Back Malaria has an information sheet on insecticide-treated bednets
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1000408
PMCID: PMC3032552  PMID: 21304925
13.  Incidence and Clinical Characteristics of Group A Rotavirus Infections among Children Admitted to Hospital in Kilifi, Kenya  
PLoS Medicine  2008;5(7):e153.
Background
Rotavirus, predominantly of group A, is a major cause of severe diarrhoea worldwide, with the greatest burden falling on young children living in less-developed countries. Vaccines directed against this virus have shown promise in recent trials, and are undergoing effectiveness evaluation in sub-Saharan Africa. In this region limited childhood data are available on the incidence and clinical characteristics of severe group A rotavirus disease. Advocacy for vaccine intervention and interpretation of effectiveness following implementation will benefit from accurate base-line estimates of the incidence and severity of rotavirus paediatric admissions in relevant populations. The study objective was to accurately define the incidence and severity of group A rotavirus disease in a resource-poor setting necessary to make informed decisions on the need for vaccine prevention.
Methods and Findings
Between 2002 and 2004 we conducted prospective surveillance for group A rotavirus infection at Kilifi District Hospital in coastal Kenya. Children < 13 y of age were eligible as “cases” if admitted with diarrhoea, and “controls” if admitted without diarrhoea. We calculated the incidence of hospital admission with group A rotavirus using data from a demographic surveillance study of 220,000 people in Kilifi District. Of 15,347 childhood admissions 3,296 (22%) had diarrhoea, 2,039 were tested for group A rotavirus antigen and, of these, 588 (29%) were positive. 372 (63%) rotavirus-positive cases were infants. Of 620 controls 19 (3.1%, 95% confidence interval [CI] 1.9–4.7) were rotavirus positive. The annual incidence (per 100,000 children) of rotavirus-positive admissions was 1,431 (95% CI 1,275–1,600) in infants and 478 (437–521) in under-5-y-olds, and highest proximal to the hospital. Compared to children with rotavirus-negative diarrhoea, rotavirus-positive cases were less likely to have coexisting illnesses and more likely to have acidosis (46% versus 17%) and severe electrolyte imbalance except hyponatraemia. In-hospital case fatality was 2% among rotavirus-positive and 9% among rotavirus-negative children.
Conclusions
In Kilifi > 2% of children are admitted to hospital with group A rotavirus diarrhoea in the first 5 y of life. This translates into over 28,000 vaccine-preventable hospitalisations per year across Kenya, and is likely to be a considerable underestimate. Group A rotavirus diarrhoea is associated with acute life-threatening metabolic derangement in otherwise healthy children. Although mortality is low in this clinical research setting this may not be generally true in African hospitals lacking rapid and appropriate management.
Combining prospective hospital-based surveillance with demographic data in Kilifi, Kenya, James Nokes and colleagues assess the burden of rotavirus diarrhea in young children.
Editors' Summary
Background.
Rotavirus is a leading global cause of diarrhea in babies and young children. Indeed, most children become infected at least once with this virus before their fifth birthday. Rotavirus is usually spread by children or their caregivers failing to wash their hands properly after going to the toilet and then contaminating food or drink. The symptoms of rotavirus infection—diarrhea, vomiting, and fever—are usually mild, but if the diarrhea is severe it can quickly lead to dehydration. Mild to moderate dehydration can be treated at home by providing the patient with plenty of fluids or with a special rehydration drink that replaces lost water and salts. However, for infants or toddlers who become severely dehydrated, rehydration with intravenous fluids (fluids injected directly into a vein) in hospital may be essential. Unfortunately, in developing countries in sub-Saharan Africa and elsewhere, this treatment is not widely available and every year more than half a million young children die from rotavirus infections.
Why Was This Study Done?
Two rotavirus vaccines that could reduce this burden of disease are currently undergoing clinical trials to determine their effectiveness in sub-Saharan Africa. However, very little is known about the incidence of severe rotavirus infections among children living in this region (that is, how many children develop severe disease every year) or about the clinical characteristics of the disease here. Public-health officials need this baseline information before they can make informed decisions about the mass introduction of rotavirus vaccination and to help them judge whether the intervention has been successful if it is introduced. In this study, the researchers examine the incidence and clinical characteristics of rotavirus infections (specifically, group A rotavirus [GARV] infections; there are several different rotaviruses but GARV causes most human infections) among children admitted to the district hospital in Kilifi, Kenya.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
During the 3-year study, more than 15,000 children under the age of 13 years were admitted to Kilifi District Hospital, a little under a quarter of whom had severe diarrhea. Nearly a third of the patients admitted with diarrhea who were tested had a GARV-specific protein in their stools (faeces); by contrast, only three in 100 children admitted without diarrhea showed any evidence of GARV infection. Two-thirds of the GARV-positive children were infants (under 1 year old). Using these figures and health surveillance data (records of births, deaths, and causes of death) collected in the area around the hospital, the researchers calculated that the annual incidence (per 100,000 children) of GARV-positive hospital admissions in the region was 1,431 for infants and 478 for children under age 5 years. Children with GARV-positive diarrhea were less likely to have other illnesses (for example, malnutrition) than those admitted with GARV-negative diarrhea, the researchers report, but were more likely to have life-threatening complications such as severe dehydration and salt imbalances in their blood. However, despite being more ill on admission, only 1 in 50 children with GARV-positive diarrhea died, compared to nearly 1 in 10 of the children with GARV-negative diarrhea; the GARV-positive children also left hospital quicker than those who were GARV-negative.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings indicate that severe GARV-positive diarrhea is a major cause of hospital admission among otherwise healthy young children in the Kilifi region of Kenya. By the time they are 5 years old, the researchers estimate that 1 in 50 of the children living in this region will have been admitted to hospital with severe GARV-positive diarrhea. Because rotavirus vaccines prevent virtually all severe rotavirus-associated disease (at least in developed countries where their effectiveness has been extensively tested), the researchers estimate that vaccination might prevent more than 28,000 hospitalizations annually across Kenya; however, this prediction assumes that it is valid to extrapolate from the data obtained from this one district hospital to the entire country.
Additional Information.
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.0050153.
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provides information about rotavirus infections, surveillance, and vaccination (in English and Spanish)
The UK National Health Service Direct health encyclopedia provides information on rotavirus infections
MedlinePlus also provides links to information on rotavirus (in English and Spanish)
The African Rotavirus Surveillance Network is working to improve knowledge about rotavirus infections in Africa
The Rotavirus Vaccine Program aims to reduce child illness and death from diarrhea by increasing the availability of rotavirus vaccines in developing countries (in English and Spanish)
PATH, a nonprofit international organization that aims to create sustainable, culturally relevant solutions to global health problems, also provides detailed information on rotavirus surveillance and disease burden
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.0050153
PMCID: PMC2488191  PMID: 18651787
14.  Community Case Management of Fever Due to Malaria and Pneumonia in Children Under Five in Zambia: A Cluster Randomized Controlled Trial 
PLoS Medicine  2010;7(9):e1000340.
In a cluster randomized trial, Kojo Yeboah-Antwi and colleagues find that integrated management of malaria and pneumonia in children under five by community health workers is both feasible and effective.
Background
Pneumonia and malaria, two of the leading causes of morbidity and mortality among children under five in Zambia, often have overlapping clinical manifestations. Zambia is piloting the use of artemether-lumefantrine (AL) by community health workers (CHWs) to treat uncomplicated malaria. Valid concerns about potential overuse of AL could be addressed by the use of malaria rapid diagnostics employed at the community level. Currently, CHWs in Zambia evaluate and treat children with suspected malaria in rural areas, but they refer children with suspected pneumonia to the nearest health facility. This study was designed to assess the effectiveness and feasibility of using CHWs to manage nonsevere pneumonia and uncomplicated malaria with the aid of rapid diagnostic tests (RDTs).
Methods and Findings
Community health posts staffed by CHWs were matched and randomly allocated to intervention and control arms. Children between the ages of 6 months and 5 years were managed according to the study protocol, as follows. Intervention CHWs performed RDTs, treated test-positive children with AL, and treated those with nonsevere pneumonia (increased respiratory rate) with amoxicillin. Control CHWs did not perform RDTs, treated all febrile children with AL, and referred those with signs of pneumonia to the health facility, as per Ministry of Health policy. The primary outcomes were the use of AL in children with fever and early and appropriate treatment with antibiotics for nonsevere pneumonia. A total of 3,125 children with fever and/or difficult/fast breathing were managed over a 12-month period. In the intervention arm, 27.5% (265/963) of children with fever received AL compared to 99.1% (2066/2084) of control children (risk ratio 0.23, 95% confidence interval 0.14–0.38). For children classified with nonsevere pneumonia, 68.2% (247/362) in the intervention arm and 13.3% (22/203) in the control arm received early and appropriate treatment (risk ratio 5.32, 95% confidence interval 2.19–8.94). There were two deaths in the intervention and one in the control arm.
Conclusions
The potential for CHWs to use RDTs, AL, and amoxicillin to manage both malaria and pneumonia at the community level is promising and might reduce overuse of AL, as well as provide early and appropriate treatment to children with nonsevere pneumonia.
Trial registration
ClinicalTrials.gov NCT00513500
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Background
Every year, about 11 million children die before their fifth birthday. Most of these deaths are in developing countries and most are due to a handful of causes—pneumonia (lung inflammation usually caused by an infection), malaria (a parasitic disease spread by mosquitoes), measles, diarrhea, and birth-related problems. In sub-Saharan Africa, pneumonia and malaria alone are responsible for nearly a third of deaths in young children. Both these diseases can be treated if caught early—pneumonia with antibiotics such as amoxicillin and malaria with artemisinin-based combination therapy (ACT), a treatment that contains several powerful antimalarial drugs. Unfortunately, parents in rural areas in sub-Saharan Africa rarely have easy access to health facilities and sick children are often treated at home by community health workers (CHWs, individuals with some medical training who provide basic health care to their communities), drug sellers, and traditional healers. This situation means that ongoing global efforts to reduce child mortality will require innovative community level interventions if they are to succeed.
Why Was This Study Done?
One community level intervention that the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) recently recommended is integrated management of malaria and pneumonia in countries where these diseases are major childhood killers. One such country is Zambia. In rural areas of Zambia, CHWs treat suspected cases of uncomplicated (mild) malaria with artemether-lumefantrine (AL, an ACT) or with sulfadoxine-pyrimethamine (a non-ACT antimalarial drug combination) and refer children with suspected pneumonia to the nearest health facility. However, because uncomplicated malaria and pneumonia both cause fever, many children are treated inappropriately. This misdiagnosis is worrying because giving antimalarial drugs to children with pneumonia delays their treatment with more appropriate drugs and increases the risk of drug-resistant malaria emerging. The use of rapid diagnostic tests (RDTs) for malaria might be one way to improve the treatment of malaria and pneumonia by CHWs in Zambia. Here, the researchers investigate the feasibility and effectiveness of this approach in a cluster randomized controlled trial, a study that compares the outcomes of groups (clusters) of patients randomly allocated to different interventions.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers randomly allocated 31 community health posts (fixed locations where CHWs provide medical services to several villages) to the study's intervention and control arms. CHWs in the intervention arm did RDTs for malaria on all the children under 5 years old who presented with fever and/or difficult or fast breathing (symptoms of pneumonia), treated test-positive children with AL, and treated those with nonsevere pneumonia (an increased breathing rate) with amoxicillin. CHWs in the control arm did not use RDTs but treated all children with fever with AL and referred those with signs of pneumonia to the nearest health facility. About 3,000 children with fever were treated during the 12-month study. 99.1% of the children in the control arm received AL compared with 27.5% of the children in the intervention arm, a 4-fold reduction in treatment for malaria. Importantly, the CHWs in the intervention arm adhered to treatment guidelines and did not give AL to children with negative RDT results. Of the children classified with nonsevere pneumonia, 13.3% of those in the control arm received early and appropriate treatment with amoxicillin compared to 68.2% of those in the intervention arm, a 5-fold increase in the timely treatment for pneumonia.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings indicate that CHWs in Zambia are capable of using RDTs, AL, and amoxicillin to manage malaria and pneumonia. They show that the intervention tested in this study has the potential to reduce the overuse of AL and to provide early and appropriate treatment for nonsevere pneumonia. Although this approach needs to be tested in other settings, these findings suggest that the use of CHWs might be a feasible and effective way to provide integrated management of pneumonia and malaria at the community level in developing countries. Importantly, these results also support the evaluation of the treatment by CHWs of other major childhood diseases and raise the possibility of saving the lives of many children in sub-Saharan Africa and other developing regions of the world through community level interventions.
Additional Information
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1000340.
WHO provides information on malaria, on rapid diagnostic tests for malaria, on artemisinin-combination therapy, and on global child mortality and efforts to reduce it (in several languages); WHO also provides a country health profile for Zambia
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provide information on malaria (in English and Spanish)
Kidshealth, a resource maintained by the not-for-profit Nemours Foundation (a not-for-profit organization for children's health), provides information for parents on pneumonia (in English and Spanish)
MedlinePlus provides links to additional information on malaria and on pneumonia (in English and Spanish)
More information about the Zambia Integrated Management of Malaria and Pneumonia Study is available
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1000340
PMCID: PMC2943441  PMID: 20877714
15.  A Head-to-Head Comparison of Four Artemisinin-Based Combinations for Treating Uncomplicated Malaria in African Children: A Randomized Trial 
PLoS Medicine  2011;8(11):e1001119.
The Four Artemisinin-Based Combinations (4ABC) Study Group reports a randomized, non-inferiority trial comparing the efficacy and safety of four ACTs in children with mild Plasmodium falciparum malaria from seven sub-Saharan African countries.
Background
Artemisinin-based combination therapies (ACTs) are the mainstay for the management of uncomplicated malaria cases. However, up-to-date data able to assist sub-Saharan African countries formulating appropriate antimalarial drug policies are scarce.
Methods and Findings
Between 9 July 2007 and 19 June 2009, a randomized, non-inferiority (10% difference threshold in efficacy at day 28) clinical trial was carried out at 12 sites in seven sub-Saharan African countries. Each site compared three of four ACTs, namely amodiaquine-artesunate (ASAQ), dihydroartemisinin-piperaquine (DHAPQ), artemether-lumefantrine (AL), or chlorproguanil-dapsone-artesunate (CD+A). Overall, 4,116 children 6–59 mo old with uncomplicated Plasmodium falciparum malaria were treated (1,226 with AL, 1,002 with ASAQ, 413 with CD+A, and 1,475 with DHAPQ), actively followed up until day 28, and then passively followed up for the next 6 mo. At day 28, for the PCR-adjusted efficacy, non-inferiority was established for three pair-wise comparisons: DHAPQ (97.3%) versus AL (95.5%) (odds ratio [OR]: 0.59, 95% CI: 0.37–0.94); DHAPQ (97.6%) versus ASAQ (96.8%) (OR: 0.74, 95% CI: 0.41–1.34), and ASAQ (97.1%) versus AL (94.4%) (OR: 0.50, 95% CI: 0.28–0.92). For the PCR-unadjusted efficacy, AL was significantly less efficacious than DHAPQ (72.7% versus 89.5%) (OR: 0.27, 95% CI: 0.21–0.34) and ASAQ (66.2% versus 80.4%) (OR: 0.40, 95% CI: 0.30–0.53), while DHAPQ (92.2%) had higher efficacy than ASAQ (80.8%) but non-inferiority could not be excluded (OR: 0.35, 95% CI: 0.26–0.48). CD+A was significantly less efficacious than the other three treatments. Day 63 results were similar to those observed at day 28.
Conclusions
This large head-to-head comparison of most currently available ACTs in sub-Saharan Africa showed that AL, ASAQ, and DHAPQ had excellent efficacy, up to day 63 post-treatment. The risk of recurrent infections was significantly lower for DHAPQ, followed by ASAQ and then AL, supporting the recent recommendation of considering DHAPQ as a valid option for the treatment of uncomplicated P. falciparum malaria.
Trial Registration
ClinicalTrials.gov NCT00393679; Pan African Clinical Trials Registry PACTR2009010000911750
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Background
Malaria is a global public-health problem. Half the world's population is at risk of this mosquito-borne parasitic disease, which kills a 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. During the second half of the 20th century, the main treatments for malaria were inexpensive “monotherapies” such as chloroquine and sulfadoxine-pyrimethamine. Unfortunately, the malaria parasite quickly developed resistance to many of these monotherapies, and in the 1990 s, there was a widespread upsurge in P. falciparum malaria. To combat this increase, the World Health Organization (WHO) now recommends artemisinin-based combination therapy (ACT) for first-line treatment of P. falciparum malaria in all regions where there is drug-resistant malaria. In ACT, artemisinin derivatives (new, fast-acting antimalarial drugs) are used in combination with another antimalarial drug (a partner drug) to reduce the chances of P. falciparum becoming resistant to either drug.
Why Was This Study Done?
WHO currently recommends five ACTs—amodiaquine-artesunate (ASAQ), dihydroartemisinin-piperaquine (DHAPQ), artemether-lumefantrine (AL), artesunate-mefloquine, and artesunate-sulfadoxine-pyrimethamine—for the treatment of malaria. Its treatment guidelines state that the choice of ACT in a country or region should be based on the local level of resistance to the non-artemisinin-based partner drug in the combination. However, data on resistance levels to these partner drugs are scarce or unavailable for many sub-Saharan African countries. To help these countries make an informed choice about their national antimalarial treatment policies, in this randomized, non-inferiority trial, the researchers compare the efficacy and safety of four ACTs in African children with uncomplicated (mild) P. falciparum malaria. In a randomized trial, groups of randomly chosen patients with a specific disease are given different treatments and then followed to compare the outcomes of these interventions. A non-inferiority trial investigates whether one treatment is not worse than another treatment.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
Each of twelve sites in seven sub-Saharan African countries compared three ACTs out of ASAQ, DHAPQ, AL, and chlorproguanil-dapsone-artesunate (CD+A). Overall, 4,116 young children with uncomplicated malaria were treated with ACT, actively followed up for 28 days (their parents brought them back to the site for pre-arranged check-ups), and passively followed up for six months (parents brought their children back if they developed any illnesses). At each visit, blood samples were examined for the presence of parasites, and a technique called PCR was used to determine which cases of malaria were new infections and which were recurrences of the original infection. The researchers then calculated the percentage of patients with no infection or with a new infection (the PCR-adjusted adequate clinical and parasitological response [ACPR]) and the percentage of patients with no infection (the PCR-unadjusted ACPR). For the PCR-adjusted efficacy, three pair-wise comparisons (DHAPQ versus AL, DHAPQ versus ASAQ, and ASAQ versus AL) showed non-inferiority at 28 days. That is, for example, similar percentages of patients given DHAPQ or AL (97.3% and 95.5%, respectively) had either no infection or a new infection. CD+A was less efficacious than the other three treatments. For the PCR-unadjusted efficacy, AL was significantly less efficacious than DHAPQ and ASAQ; DHAPQ had a higher efficacy than ASAQ, but non-inferiority could not be excluded. That is, the difference in efficacy of these two drugs might have happened by chance.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings suggest that AL, ASAQ, and DHAPQ are all efficacious for the treatment of uncomplicated malaria in children; CD+A was withdrawn partway through the trial because of side effects, but these findings also suggest that it was less efficacious than the other ACTs. Importantly, the PCR-unadjusted results indicate that the risk of children becoming re-infected with malaria parasites soon after treatment was lowest for DHAPQ, followed by ASAQ, and then AL. Because these findings are based on pooled results from seven sub-Saharan African countries, they are likely to be generalizable and thus of use in setting national antimalarial drug policies throughout the region. AL and ASAQ are already included in the antimalarial drug policies of many sub-Saharan African countries, note the researchers, but these findings support the WHO recommendation that DHAPQ should also be considered for the treatment for uncomplicated P. falciparum malaria.
Additional Information
Please access these websites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1001119.
Information is available from WHO on malaria (in several languages); the 2010 World Malaria Report provides details of the current global malaria situation; the WHO Guidelines for the Treatment of Malaria and the report Assessment and Monitoring of Antimalarial Drug Efficacy for the Treatment of Uncomplicated Malaria are available
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provide information on malaria (in English and Spanish), including a selection of personal stories about malaria
Information is available from the Roll Back Malaria Partnership on the global control of malaria including fact sheets about ACTs and about malaria in Africa
MedlinePlus provides links to additional information on malaria (in English and Spanish)
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1001119
PMCID: PMC3210754  PMID: 22087077
16.  Decline in Diarrhea Mortality and Admissions after Routine Childhood Rotavirus Immunization in Brazil: A Time-Series Analysis 
PLoS Medicine  2011;8(4):e1001024.
A time series analysis by Manish Patel and colleagues shows that the introduction of rotavirus vaccination in Brazil is associated with reduced diarrhea-related deaths and hospital admissions in children under 5 years of age.
Background
In 2006, Brazil began routine immunization of infants <15 wk of age with a single-strain rotavirus vaccine. We evaluated whether the rotavirus vaccination program was associated with declines in childhood diarrhea deaths and hospital admissions by monitoring disease trends before and after vaccine introduction in all five regions of Brazil with varying disease burden and distinct socioeconomic and health indicators.
Methods and Findings
National data were analyzed with an interrupted time-series analysis that used diarrhea-related mortality or hospitalization rates as the main outcomes. Monthly mortality and admission rates estimated for the years after rotavirus vaccination (2007–2009) were compared with expected rates calculated from pre-vaccine years (2002–2005), adjusting for secular and seasonal trends. During the three years following rotavirus vaccination in Brazil, rates for diarrhea-related mortality and admissions among children <5 y of age were 22% (95% confidence interval 6%–44%) and 17% (95% confidence interval 5%–27%) lower than expected, respectively. A cumulative total of ∼1,500 fewer diarrhea deaths and 130,000 fewer admissions were observed among children <5 y during the three years after rotavirus vaccination. The largest reductions in deaths (22%–28%) and admissions (21%–25%) were among children younger than 2 y, who had the highest rates of vaccination. In contrast, lower reductions in deaths (4%) and admissions (7%) were noted among children two years of age and older, who were not age-eligible for vaccination during the study period.
Conclusions
After the introduction of rotavirus vaccination for infants, significant declines for three full years were observed in under-5-y diarrhea-related mortality and hospital admissions for diarrhea in Brazil. The largest reductions in diarrhea-related mortality and hospital admissions for diarrhea were among children younger than 2 y, who were eligible for vaccination as infants, which suggests that the reduced diarrhea burden in this age group was associated with introduction of the rotavirus vaccine. These real-world data are consistent with evidence obtained from clinical trials and strengthen the evidence base for the introduction of rotavirus vaccination as an effective measure for controlling severe and fatal childhood diarrhea.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Background
Diarrheal disease, usually caused by infectious agents, is the second major cause of death in children aged under five years. As highlighted in a recent PLoS Medicine series, access to clean water and improved sanitation is the key to the primary prevention of diarrheal illnesses. Yet despite the targets of Millennium Development Goal 7 to half the number of people without access to clean water or improved sanitation by 2015, over one billion people worldwide do not currently have access to clean water and over two billion do not currently have access to improved sanitation.
Since enteric viruses are primarily transmitted directly from one person to another, they cannot be controlled completely by improvements in sanitation. Therefore, although not replacing the urgent need to provide access to clean water and improved sanitation for all, vaccination programs that protect young children against some infections that cause diarrhea, such as rotavirus, which accounts for one-third of all child deaths caused by diarrhea, are a pragmatic way forward. As large clinical trials have shown the safety and efficacy of rotavirus vaccines in population settings, in July 2009, the World Health Organization recommended including rotavirus vaccines into every country's national immunization programs.
Why Was This Study Done?
Although the protective effect of rotavirus vaccines has been assessed in various high-, middle-, and low-income settings, for reasons that remain unclear, the efficacy of live, oral rotavirus vaccines appears to be dependent on geographical location and correlated to the socioeconomic status of the population. Because of these concerns, evaluating the health impact of large-scale rotavirus vaccine programs and ensuring their equity in a real-world setting (rather than in clinical trial conditions) is important.
Therefore, the researchers addressed this issue by conducting this study to evaluate the effect of rotavirus vaccination on mortality and hospital admissions for diarrhea due to all causes among young children in the five regions of Brazil. The researchers chose to do this study in Brazil because of the high incidence of diarrhea-related deaths and hospital admissions and because five years ago, in July 2006, the Brazilian Ministry of Health introduced the single-strain rotavirus vaccine simultaneously in all 27 states through its national immunization program—allowing for “before” and “after” intervention analysis.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers obtained data on diarrheal deaths and hospital admissions in children aged under five years for the period 2002–2005 and 2007–2009 and data on rotavirus vaccination rates. The researchers got the data on diarrhea deaths from the Brazilian Mortality Information System—the national database of information collected from death certificates that covers 90% of all deaths in Brazil. The data on hospital admissions came from the electronic Hospital Information System of Brazil's Unified Health System (Sistema Unico de Saúde, SUS)—the publicly funded health-care system that covers roughly 70% of the hospitalizations and includes information on all admissions (from public hospitals and some private hospitals) authorized for payment by the Unified Health System. The researchers got regional rotavirus vaccination coverage estimates for 2007–2009 from the information department of the Ministry of Health, and estimated coverage of the two doses of oral rotavirus vaccine by taking the annual number of second doses administered divided by the number of infants in the region.
In 2007, an estimated 80% of infants received two doses of rotavirus vaccine, and by 2009, this proportion rose to 84% of children younger than one year of age. The researchers found that in the three years following the introduction of rotavirus vaccination, diarrhea-related mortality rates and admissions among children aged under five years were respectively 22% and 17% lower than expected, with a cumulative total of 1,500 fewer diarrhea deaths and 130,000 fewer admissions. Furthermore, the largest reductions in deaths and admissions were among children who had the highest rates of vaccination (less than two years of age), and the lowest reductions were among children who were not eligible for vaccination during the study period (aged 2–4 years).
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings suggest that the introduction of rotavirus vaccination in all areas of Brazil is associated with reduced diarrhea-related deaths and hospital admissions in children aged under five years. These real-world impact data are consistent with the clinical trials and strengthen the evidence base for rotavirus vaccination as an effective measure for controlling severe and fatal childhood diarrhea.
These findings have important global policy implications. In middle-income countries, such as Brazil, that are not eligible for financial support from donors, the potential reductions in admissions and other health-care costs will be important for cost-effectiveness considerations to justify the purchase of these still relatively expensive vaccines.
Additional Information
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1001024
PLoS Medicine has published a series on water and sanitation
More information is available from the World Health Organization on diarrheal illness in children
More information is available about rotavirus vaccines from the World Health Organization, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the Rotavirus Vaccine Program
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1001024
PMCID: PMC3079643  PMID: 21526228
17.  Drivers of Inequality in Millennium Development Goal Progress: A Statistical Analysis 
PLoS Medicine  2010;7(3):e1000241.
David Stuckler and colleagues examine the impact of the HIV and noncommunicable disease epidemics on low-income countries' progress toward the Millennium Development Goals for health.
Background
Many low- and middle-income countries are not on track to reach the public health targets set out in the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). We evaluated whether differential progress towards health MDGs was associated with economic development, public health funding (both overall and as percentage of available domestic funds), or health system infrastructure. We also examined the impact of joint epidemics of HIV/AIDS and noncommunicable diseases (NCDs), which may limit the ability of households to address child mortality and increase risks of infectious diseases.
Methods and Findings
We calculated each country's distance from its MDG goals for HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, and infant and child mortality targets for the year 2005 using the United Nations MDG database for 227 countries from 1990 to the present. We studied the association of economic development (gross domestic product [GDP] per capita in purchasing-power-parity), the relative priority placed on health (health spending as a percentage of GDP), real health spending (health system expenditures in purchasing-power-parity), HIV/AIDS burden (prevalence rates among ages 15–49 y), and NCD burden (age-standardised chronic disease mortality rates), with measures of distance from attainment of health MDGs. To avoid spurious correlations that may exist simply because countries with high disease burdens would be expected to have low MDG progress, and to adjust for potential confounding arising from differences in countries' initial disease burdens, we analysed the variations in rates of change in MDG progress versus expected rates for each country. While economic development, health priority, health spending, and health infrastructure did not explain more than one-fifth of the differences in progress to health MDGs among countries, burdens of HIV and NCDs explained more than half of between-country inequalities in child mortality progress (R2-infant mortality  = 0.57, R2-under 5 mortality  = 0.54). HIV/AIDS and NCD burdens were also the strongest correlates of unequal progress towards tuberculosis goals (R2 = 0.57), with NCDs having an effect independent of HIV/AIDS, consistent with micro-level studies of the influence of tobacco and diabetes on tuberculosis risks. Even after correcting for health system variables, initial child mortality, and tuberculosis diseases, we found that lower burdens of HIV/AIDS and NCDs were associated with much greater progress towards attainment of child mortality and tuberculosis MDGs than were gains in GDP. An estimated 1% lower HIV prevalence or 10% lower mortality rate from NCDs would have a similar impact on progress towards the tuberculosis MDG as an 80% or greater rise in GDP, corresponding to at least a decade of economic growth in low-income countries.
Conclusions
Unequal progress in health MDGs in low-income countries appears significantly related to burdens of HIV and NCDs in a population, after correcting for potentially confounding socioeconomic, disease burden, political, and health system variables. The common separation between NCDs, child mortality, and infectious syndromes among development programs may obscure interrelationships of illness affecting those living in poor households—whether economic (e.g., as money spent on tobacco is lost from child health expenditures) or biological (e.g., as diabetes or HIV enhance the risk of tuberculosis).
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Background
In 2000, 189 countries adopted the United Nations (UN) Millennium Declaration, which commits the world to the eradication of extreme poverty by 2015. The Declaration lists eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), 21 quantifiable targets, and 60 indicators of progress. So, for example, MDG 4 aims to reduce child mortality (deaths). The target for this goal is to reduce the number of children who die each year before they are five years old (the under-five mortality rate) to two-thirds of its 1990 value by 2015. Indicators of progress toward this goal include the under-five mortality rate and the infant mortality rate. Because poverty and ill health are inextricably linked—ill health limits the ability of individuals and nations to improve their economic status, and poverty contributes to the development of many illnesses—two other MDGs also tackle public health issues. MDG 5 sets a target of reducing maternal mortality by three-quarters of its 1990 level by 2015. MDG 6 aims to halt and begin to reverse the spread of HIV/AIDS, malaria, and other major diseases such as tuberculosis by 2015.
Why Was This Study Done?
Although progress has been made toward achieving the MDGs, few if any of the targets are likely to be met by 2015. Worryingly, low-income countries are falling furthest behind their MDG targets. For example, although child mortality has been declining globally, in many poor countries there has been little or no progress. What is the explanation for this and other inequalities in progress toward the health MDGs? Some countries may simply lack the financial resources needed to combat epidemics or may allocate only a low proportion of their gross domestic product (GDP) to health. Alternatively, money allocated to health may not always reach the people who need it most because of an inadequate health infrastructure. Finally, coexisting epidemics may be hindering progress toward the MDG health targets. Thus, the spread of HIV/AIDS may be hindering attempts to limit the spread of tuberculosis because HIV infection increases the risk of active tuberculosis, and ongoing epidemics of diabetes and other noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) may be affecting the attainment of health MDGs by diverting scarce resources. In this study, the researchers investigate whether any of these possibilities is driving the inequalities in MDG progress.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers calculated how far 227 countries were from their MDG targets for HIV, tuberculosis, and infant and child mortality in 2005 using information collected by the UN. They then used statistical methods to study the relationship between this distance and economic development (GDP per person), health spending as a proportion of GDP (health priority), actual health system expenditures, health infrastructure, HIV burden, and NCD burden in each country. Economic development, health priority, health spending, and health infrastructure explained no more than one-fifth of the inequalities in progress toward health MDGs. By contrast, the HIV and NCD burdens explained more than half of inequalities in child mortality progress and were strongly associated with unequal progress toward tuberculosis goals. Furthermore, the researchers calculated that a 1% reduction in the number of people infected with HIV or a 10% reduction in rate of deaths from NCDs in a population would have a similar impact on progress toward the tuberculosis MDG target as a rise in GDP corresponding to at least a decade of growth in low-income countries.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings are limited by the quality of the available data on health indicators in low-income countries and, because the researchers used country-wide data, their findings only reveal possible drivers of inequalities in progress toward MDGs in whole countries and may mask drivers of within-country inequalities. Nevertheless, as one of the first attempts to analyze the determinants of global inequalities in progress toward the health MDGs, these findings have important implications for global health policy. Most importantly, the finding that unequal progress is related to the burdens of HIV and NCDs in populations suggests that programs designed to achieve health MDGs must consider all the diseases and factors that can trap households in vicious cycles of illness and poverty, especially since the achievement of feasible reductions in NCDs in low-income countries could greatly enhance progress towards health MDGs.
Additional Information
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1000241.
The United Nations Millennium Development Goals website provides detailed information about the Millennium Declaration, the MDGs, their targets and their indicators
The Millennium Development Goals Report 2009 and its progress chart provide an up-to-date assessment of progress towards the MDGs
The World Health Organization provides information about poverty and health and health and development
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1000241
PMCID: PMC2830449  PMID: 20209000
18.  Essential Surgery at the District Hospital: A Retrospective Descriptive Analysis in Three African Countries 
PLoS Medicine  2010;7(3):e1000243.
In the first of two papers investigating surgical provision in eight district hospitals in Saharan African countries, Margaret Kruk and colleagues find low levels of surgical care provision suggesting unmet need for surgical services.
Background
Surgical conditions contribute significantly to the disease burden in sub-Saharan Africa. Yet there is an apparent neglect of surgical care as a public health intervention to counter this burden. There is increasing enthusiasm to reverse this trend, by promoting essential surgical services at the district hospital, the first point of contact for critical conditions for rural populations. This study investigated the scope of surgery conducted at district hospitals in three sub-Saharan African countries.
Methods and Findings
In a retrospective descriptive study, field data were collected from eight district hospitals in Uganda, Tanzania, and Mozambique using a standardized form and interviews with key informants. Overall, the scope of surgical procedures performed was narrow and included mainly essential and life-saving emergency procedures. Surgical output varied across hospitals from five to 45 major procedures/10,000 people. Obstetric operations were most common and included cesarean sections and uterine evacuations. Hernia repair and wound care accounted for 65% of general surgical procedures. The number of beds in the studied hospitals ranged from 0.2 to 1.0 per 1,000 population.
Conclusion
The findings of this study clearly indicate low levels of surgical care provision at the district level for the hospitals studied. The extent to which this translates into unmet need remains unknown although the very low proportions of live births in the catchment areas of these eight hospitals that are born by cesarean section suggest that there is a substantial unmet need for surgical services. The district hospital in the current health system in sub-Saharan Africa lends itself to feasible integration of essential surgery into the spectrum of comprehensive primary care services. It is therefore critical that the surgical capacity of the district hospital is significantly expanded; this will result in sustainable preventable morbidity and mortality.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Background
Every year, about 234 million major surgical procedures take place globally. Of these procedures, only a quarter are performed in low- and middle-income countries where nearly three-quarters of the world's population lives. Put another way, in high-income countries, 10,110 people out of every 100,000 have surgery each year on average compared to only 295 people out of every 100,000 in low- and middle-income countries. Yet conditions that need surgery (including complications of childbirth and traumatic injuries) are common in developing countries and contribute significantly to the burden of disease in these countries. Various organizations are working to reduce this burden by improving emergency and essential surgical care in developing countries. For example, the Bellagio Essential Surgery Group (BESG), which includes experts in surgery, anesthesia, obstetrics (the branch of medicine that cares for women during pregnancy and childbirth), and health policy from several African countries, the World Health Organization (WHO), and the US, aims to increase access to surgical services in sub-Saharan Africa.
Why Was This Study Done?
One way to improve access to surgical services in sub-Saharan Africa would be to promote the provision of essential surgical services at district hospitals. These hospitals are the first referral facilities for people living in rural areas. Traditionally, patients receive much of their primary health care at these facilities but are referred to secondary and tertiary health care facilities (regional and national referral hospitals, respectively) for more specialized care. However, many surgical conditions—in particular, obstetric emergencies—need to be treated at district hospitals if lives are to be saved. Unfortunately, very little is known about the range and volume of surgical procedures currently undertaken in district hospitals in sub-Saharan Africa and such information is needed before programs can be developed to increase access to surgical services at these facilities. In this retrospective, descriptive study, the researchers (some of whom are part of the BESG) investigate the scope of surgery undertaken in district hospitals in three sub-Saharan African countries.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers obtained recent data on the surgical procedures done at two representative district hospitals each in Tanzania and in Mozambique and four representative district hospitals in Uganda by examining hospital records and by interviewing administrators. The observed range of surgical procedures performed in these hospitals was narrow, they report, consisting mainly of essential and life-saving emergency procedures such as cesarean sections for the delivery of babies and wound-related procedures. Obstetric procedures accounted for around half of all surgical procedures in all the hospitals except one Ugandan hospital. Hernia repair and wound care accounted for nearly two-thirds of general surgical procedures. The surgical output across the hospitals varied from five to 45 major procedures per 10,000 people in the population (average 25 operations per 10,000 people). Across the hospitals, between one and 17 cesarean sections and between 0.5 and seven hernia repairs were performed per 10,000 people in the population. Finally, the researchers used their data and WHO estimates of the population need for cesarean sections to estimate that in the two Tanzanian district hospitals, between half and two-thirds of women that needed a cesarean section did not have access to this life-saving procedure.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings suggest that there are low levels of provision of surgical care in district hospitals in Tanzania, Mozambique, and Uganda. Further studies are needed to confirm that these findings are generalizable to district hospitals elsewhere in sub-Saharan Africa and to quantify the extent to which this low level of surgical care translates into unmet needs. Limitations of the study include a lack of information on outcomes, on referral of patients to higher-level facilities, and on how many of the surgical procedures undertaken at these hospitals dealt with traumatic injuries. Nevertheless, the information collected in this study, together with that in a separate paper that investigates the availability of health workers and funding for the provision of essential surgery in district hospitals in these three countries, suggests that the surgical capacity of district hospitals in sub-Saharan Africa needs to be improved. If this goal can be achieved, suggest the researchers, it should avert many illnesses and deaths in this poor region of the world.
Additional Information
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1000243.
The availability of health workers and funding for surgery in the same hospitals is investigated in a PLoS Medicine Research Article by Margaret E. Kruk et al.
Information on the Bellagio Essential Surgery Group is available
WHO's Global initiative for Emergency and Essential Surgical Care plans to take essential emergency, basic surgery and anesthesia skills to health care staff in low- and middle-income countries around the world; WHO also has a page describing the importance of emergency and essential surgery in primary health care
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1000243
PMCID: PMC2834708  PMID: 20231871
19.  Task Shifting for Scale-up of HIV Care: Evaluation of Nurse-Centered Antiretroviral Treatment at Rural Health Centers in Rwanda 
PLoS Medicine  2009;6(10):e1000163.
Fabienne Shumbusho and colleagues evaluate a task-shifting model of nurse-centered antiretroviral treatment prescribing in rural primary health centers in Rwanda and find that nurses can effectively and safely prescribe ART when given adequate training, mentoring, and support.
Background
The shortage of human resources for health, and in particular physicians, is one of the major barriers to achieve universal access to HIV care and treatment. In September 2005, a pilot program of nurse-centered antiretroviral treatment (ART) prescription was launched in three rural primary health centers in Rwanda. We retrospectively evaluated the feasibility and effectiveness of this task-shifting model using descriptive data.
Methods and Findings
Medical records of 1,076 patients enrolled in HIV care and treatment services from September 2005 to March 2008 were reviewed to assess: (i) compliance with national guidelines for ART eligibility and prescription, and patient monitoring and (ii) key outcomes, such as retention, body weight, and CD4 cell count change at 6, 12, 18, and 24 mo after ART initiation. Of these, no ineligible patients were started on ART and only one patient received an inappropriate ART prescription. Of the 435 patients who initiated ART, the vast majority had adherence and side effects assessed at each clinic visit (89% and 84%, respectively). By March 2008, 390 (90%) patients were alive on ART, 29 (7%) had died, one (<1%) was lost to follow-up, and none had stopped treatment. Patient retention was about 92% by 12 mo and 91% by 24 mo. Depending on initial stage of disease, mean CD4 cell count increased between 97 and 128 cells/µl in the first 6 mo after treatment initiation and between 79 and 129 cells/µl from 6 to 24 mo of treatment. Mean weight increased significantly in the first 6 mo, between 1.8 and 4.3 kg, with no significant increases from 6 to 24 mo.
Conclusions
Patient outcomes in our pilot program compared favorably with other ART cohorts in sub-Saharan Africa and with those from a recent evaluation of the national ART program in Rwanda. These findings suggest that nurses can effectively and safely prescribe ART when given adequate training, mentoring, and support.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Background
Infection with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) is a serious health problem in sub-Saharan Africa. The virus attacks white blood cells that protect against infection, most commonly a type of white blood cell called CD4. When a person has been infected with HIV for a long time, the number of CD4 cells they have goes down, resulting in acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS), in which the person's immune system no longer functions effectively.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has divided the disease into four stages as it progresses, according to symptoms including weight loss and so-called opportunistic infections. These are known as clinical stage I, II, III, or IV but were revised and renamed 1, 2, 3, and 4 in September 2005. HIV infection and AIDS cannot be cured but they can be managed with antiretroviral treatment (ART). The WHO currently recommends that ART is begun when the CD4 count falls below 350.
Rwanda is a country situated in the central Africa with a population of around 9 million inhabitants; over 3% of the rural population and 7% of the urban population are infected with HIV. In 2007, the WHO estimated that 220,000 Rwandan children had lost one or both parents to AIDS.
Why Was This Study Done?
The WHO estimates that 9.7 million people with HIV in low- to middle-income countries need ART but at the end of 2007, only 30% of these, including in Rwanda, had access to treatment. In many low-income countries a major factor in this is a lack of doctors. Rwanda, for example, has one doctor per 50,000 inhabitants and one nurse per 3,900 inhabitants.
This situation has led the WHO to recommend “task shifting,” i.e., that the task of prescribing ART should be shifted from doctors to nurses so that more patients can be treated. This type of reorganization is well studied in high-income countries, but the researchers wanted to help develop a system for treating AIDS that would be effective and timely in a predominantly rural, low-income setting such as Rwanda.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
In conjunction with the Rwandan Ministry of Health, the researchers developed and piloted a task-shifting program, in which one nurse in each of three rural Rwandan primary health centers (PHCs) was trained to examine HIV patients and prescribe ART in simple cases. Nurses had to complete more than 50 consultations observed by the doctor before being permitted to consult patients independently. More complex cases were referred to a doctor. The authors developed standard checklists, instructions, and evaluation forms to guide nurses and the doctors who supervised them once a week.
The authors evaluated the pilot program by reviewing the records of 1,076 patients who enrolled on it between September 2005 and March 2008. They looked to see whether the nurses had followed guidelines and monitored the patients correctly. They also considered health outcomes for the patients, such as their death rate, their body weight, their CD4 cell count, and whether they maintained contact with caregivers.
They found that by March 2008, 451 patients had been eligible for ART. 435 received treatment and none of the patients were prescribed ART when they should not have been. Only one prescription did not follow national guidelines.
At every visit, nurses were supposed to assess whether patients were taking their drugs and to monitor side effects. They did this and maintained records correctly for the vast majority of the 435 patients who were prescribed ART. 390 patients (over 90%) of the 435 prescribed receiving ART continued to take it and maintain contact with the pilot PHC's program. 29 patients died. Only one was lost to follow up and the others transferred to another ART site. The majority gained weight in the first six months and their CD4 cell counts rose. Outcomes, including death rate, were similar to those treated on the (doctor-led) Rwandan national ART program and other sub-Saharan African national (doctor-led) programs.
What Do These Findings Mean?
The study suggests that nurses are able to prescribe ART safely and effectively in a rural sub-Saharan setting, given sufficient training, mentoring, and support. Nurse-led prescribing of ART could mean that timely, appropriate treatment reaches many more HIV patients. It would reduce the burden of HIV care for doctors, freeing their time for other duties, and the study is already being used by the Rwandan Ministry of Health as a basis for plans to adopt a task-shifting strategy for the national ART program.
The study does have some limitations. The pilot program was funded and designed as a health project to deliver ART in rural areas, rather than a research project to compare nurse-led and doctor-led ART programs. There was no group of equivalent patients treated by doctors rather than nurses for direct comparison, although the authors did compare outcomes with those achieved nationally for doctor-led ART. The most promising sites, nurses, and patients were selected for the pilot and careful monitoring may have been an additional motivation for the nurses and doctors taking part. Health professionals in a scaled-up program may not be as committed as those in the pilot, who were carefully monitored. In addition, the nature of the pilot, which lasted for under three years and recruited new patients throughout, meant that patients were followed up for relatively short periods.
The authors also warn that they did not consider in this study the changes task shifting will make to doctors' roles and the skills required of both doctors and nurses. They recommend that task shifting should be implemented as part of a wider investment in health systems, human resources, training, adapted medical records, tools, and protocols.
Additional Information
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1000163.
PLoS Medicine includes a page collecting together its recent articles on HIV infection and AIDS that includes research articles, perspectives, editorials, and policy forums
SciDev.net provides news, views, and information about science, technology, and the developing world, including a section specific to HIV/AIDs
The World Health Organization (WHO) has published a downloadable booklet Task Shifting to Tackle Health Worker Shortages
The WHO offers information on HIV and AIDS (in Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian, and Spanish) as well as health information and fact sheets on individual countries, including on Rwanda
The UNAIDS/WHO working group on HIV/AIDS and Sexually Transmitted Infections (STI) Surveillance gathers and publishes data on the prevalence of HIV and AIDS in individual countries, including on Rwanda
AIDS.ORG provides information to help prevent HIV infections and to improve the lives of those affected by HIV and AIDS. Factsheets on many aspects of HIV and AIDS are available. It is the official online publisher of AIDS Treatment News
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1000163
PMCID: PMC2752160  PMID: 19823569
20.  Neonatal Mortality Levels for 193 Countries in 2009 with Trends since 1990: A Systematic Analysis of Progress, Projections, and Priorities 
PLoS Medicine  2011;8(8):e1001080.
Mikkel Oestergaard and colleagues develop annual estimates for neonatal mortality rates and neonatal deaths for 193 countries for 1990 to 2009, and forecasts into the future.
Background
Historically, the main focus of studies of childhood mortality has been the infant and under-five mortality rates. Neonatal mortality (deaths <28 days of age) has received limited attention, although such deaths account for about 41% of all child deaths. To better assess progress, we developed annual estimates for neonatal mortality rates (NMRs) and neonatal deaths for 193 countries for the period 1990–2009 with forecasts into the future.
Methods and Findings
We compiled a database of mortality in neonates and children (<5 years) comprising 3,551 country-years of information. Reliable civil registration data from 1990 to 2009 were available for 38 countries. A statistical model was developed to estimate NMRs for the remaining 155 countries, 17 of which had no national data. Country consultation was undertaken to identify data inputs and review estimates. In 2009, an estimated 3.3 million babies died in the first month of life—compared with 4.6 million neonatal deaths in 1990—and more than half of all neonatal deaths occurred in five countries of the world (44% of global livebirths): India 27.8% (19.6% of global livebirths), Nigeria 7.2% (4.5%), Pakistan 6.9% (4.0%), China 6.4% (13.4%), and Democratic Republic of the Congo 4.6% (2.1%). Between 1990 and 2009, the global NMR declined by 28% from 33.2 deaths per 1,000 livebirths to 23.9. The proportion of child deaths that are in the neonatal period increased in all regions of the world, and globally is now 41%. While NMRs were halved in some regions of the world, Africa's NMR only dropped 17.6% (43.6 to 35.9).
Conclusions
Neonatal mortality has declined in all world regions. Progress has been slowest in the regions with high NMRs. Global health programs need to address neonatal deaths more effectively if Millennium Development Goal 4 (two-thirds reduction in child mortality) is to be achieved.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Background
Every year, more than 8 million children die before their fifth birthday. Most of these deaths occur in developing countries and most are caused by preventable or treatable diseases. In 2000, world leaders set a target of reducing child mortality to one-third of its 1990 level by 2015 as Millennium Development Goal 4 (MDG4). This goal, together with seven others, is designed to help improve the social, economic, and health conditions in the world's poorest countries. In recent years, progress towards reducing child mortality has accelerated but remains insufficient to achieve MDG4. In particular, progress towards reducing neonatal deaths—deaths during the first 28 days of life—has been slow and neonatal deaths now account for a greater proportion of global child deaths than in 1990. Currently, nearly 41% of all deaths among children under the age of 5 years occur during the neonatal period. The major causes of neonatal deaths are complications of preterm delivery, breathing problems during or after delivery (birth asphyxia), and infections of the blood (sepsis) and lungs (pneumonia). Simple interventions such as improved hygiene at birth and advice on breastfeeding can substantially reduce neonatal deaths.
Why Was This Study Done?
If MDG4 is to be met, more must be done to prevent deaths among newborn babies. To improve survival rates and to monitor the effects of public-health interventions in this vulnerable group, accurate, up-to-date estimates of national neonatal mortality rates (NMRs, the number of neonatal deaths per 1,000 live births) are essential. Although infant (under-one) and under-five mortality rates are estimated annually for individual countries by the United Nations Interagency Group for Child Mortality Estimation, annual NMR trend estimates have not been produced before. In many developed countries, child mortality rates can be calculated directly from vital civil registration data—records of all births and deaths. But many developing countries lack vital registration systems and child mortality has to be estimated using data collected in household surveys such as the Demographic and Health Surveys (a project that helps developing countries collect data on health and population trends). In this study, the researchers estimate annual national NMRs and numbers of neonatal deaths for the past 20 years using the available data.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers used civil registration systems, household surveys, and other sources to compile a database of deaths among neonates and children under 5 years old for 193 countries between 1990 and 2009. They estimated NMRs for 38 countries from reliable vital registration data and developed a statistical model to estimate NMRs for the remaining 155 countries (in which 92% of global live births occurred). In 2009, 3.3 million babies died during their first month of life compared to 4.6 million in 1990. More than half the neonatal deaths in 2009 occurred in five countries—India, Nigeria, Pakistan, China, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. India had the largest number of neonatal deaths throughout the study. Between 1990 and 2009, although the global NMR decreased from 33.2 to 23.9 deaths per 1,000 live births (a decrease of 28%), NMRs increased in eight countries, five of which were in Africa. Moreover, in Africa as a whole, the NMR only decreased by 17.6%, from 43.6 per 1,000 live births in 1990 to 35.9 per 1,000 live births in 2009.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These and other findings suggest that neonatal mortality has declined in all world regions since 1990 but that progress has been slowest in the regions with high NMRs such as Africa. Although there is considerable uncertainty around the estimates calculated by the researchers, these findings nevertheless highlight the slow progress in reducing the neonatal mortality risk over the past 20 years and suggest that the relative contribution of neonatal deaths to child deaths will increase into the future. Thus, if MDG4 is to be achieved, it is essential that national governments and international health bodies invest in improved methods for the measurement of neonatal deaths and stillbirths and increase their investment in the provision of care at birth and during the first few weeks of life.
Additional Information
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1001080.
The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) works for children's rights, survival, development, and protection around the world; it provides information on Millennium Development Goal 4, and its Childinfo Web site provides detailed statistics about child survival and health, including a description of the United Nations Interagency Group for Child Mortality Estimation and a link to its database, and information on newborn care (some information in several languages)
The World Health Organization also has information about the Millennium Development Goal 4, provides information on newborn mortality, and provides the latest estimates of child mortality
Further information about the Millennium Development Goals is available
Information is also available about the Demographic and Health Surveys
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1001080
PMCID: PMC3168874  PMID: 21918640
21.  Global Burden of Sickle Cell Anaemia in Children under Five, 2010–2050: Modelling Based on Demographics, Excess Mortality, and Interventions 
PLoS Medicine  2013;10(7):e1001484.
Frédéric Piel and colleagues combine national sickle cell anemia (SCA) frequencies with projected demographic data to estimate the number of SCA births in children under five globally from 2010 to 2050, and then estimate the number of lives that could be be saved following implementation of specific health interventions starting in 2015.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Background
The global burden of sickle cell anaemia (SCA) is set to rise as a consequence of improved survival in high-prevalence low- and middle-income countries and population migration to higher-income countries. The host of quantitative evidence documenting these changes has not been assembled at the global level. The purpose of this study is to estimate trends in the future number of newborns with SCA and the number of lives that could be saved in under-five children with SCA by the implementation of different levels of health interventions.
Methods and Findings
First, we calculated projected numbers of newborns with SCA for each 5-y interval between 2010 and 2050 by combining estimates of national SCA frequencies with projected demographic data. We then accounted for under-five mortality (U5m) projections and tested different levels of excess mortality for children with SCA, reflecting the benefits of implementing specific health interventions for under-five patients in 2015, to assess the number of lives that could be saved with appropriate health care services. The estimated number of newborns with SCA globally will increase from 305,800 (confidence interval [CI]: 238,400–398,800) in 2010 to 404,200 (CI: 242,500–657,600) in 2050. It is likely that Nigeria (2010: 91,000 newborns with SCA [CI: 77,900–106,100]; 2050: 140,800 [CI: 95,500–200,600]) and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (2010: 39,700 [CI: 32,600–48,800]; 2050: 44,700 [CI: 27,100–70,500]) will remain the countries most in need of policies for the prevention and management of SCA. We predict a decrease in the annual number of newborns with SCA in India (2010: 44,400 [CI: 33,700–59,100]; 2050: 33,900 [CI: 15,900–64,700]). The implementation of basic health interventions (e.g., prenatal diagnosis, penicillin prophylaxis, and vaccination) for SCA in 2015, leading to significant reductions in excess mortality among under-five children with SCA, could, by 2050, prolong the lives of 5,302,900 [CI: 3,174,800–6,699,100] newborns with SCA. Similarly, large-scale universal screening could save the lives of up to 9,806,000 (CI: 6,745,800–14,232,700) newborns with SCA globally, 85% (CI: 81%–88%) of whom will be born in sub-Saharan Africa. The study findings are limited by the uncertainty in the estimates and the assumptions around mortality reductions associated with interventions.
Conclusions
Our quantitative approach confirms that the global burden of SCA is increasing, and highlights the need to develop specific national policies for appropriate public health planning, particularly in low- and middle-income countries. Further empirical collaborative epidemiological studies are vital to assess current and future health care needs, especially in Nigeria, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and India.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Background
More than seven million babies are born each year with a structural or functional abnormality. Although some birth defects are caused by environmental factors, many are caused by the inheritance of a defective gene. One common inherited birth defect is sickle cell anemia (SCA). SCA arises when a baby inherits the gene for sickle hemoglobin (HbS), a structural variant of normal adult hemoglobin (HbA, the protein in the disc-shaped red blood cells that carry oxygen round the body), from both its parents. Every cell in the human body contains two full sets of genes, and babies inherit one set of genes from each parent. The parents usually each have one HbS gene and one HbA gene, and are unaffected. However, the red blood cells of their offspring who inherit two copies of HbS develop a sickle (crescent) shape. Sickle cells can block blood vessels in the limbs and organs and have a shorter lifespan than normal red blood cells, which causes anemia. Together, these changes can cause acute pain and organ damage, and can increase the risk of severe infections. SCA can be prevented by prenatal diagnosis and managed by interventions such as the provision of antibiotics and vaccination to prevent infections.
Why Was This Study Done?
Without early diagnosis and treatment, children with SCA often die within the first few years of life. Having one copy of the HbS gene provides people with protection from malaria, therefore SCA occurs mainly in low- and middle-income countries in tropical regions, where early diagnosis and treatment is often unavailable. Recent improvements in overall infant and childhood survival in these countries and population migration to higher-income countries mean that the global burden of SCA is likely to increase over the coming decades. To date, no one has tried to quantify this increase, although this information is needed to guide decisions on public health spending. In this modeling study, the researchers assess the size of the expected global burden of SCA between 2010 and 2050 in children under five years old and estimate the number of newborn lives that might be saved by implementation of various health interventions.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers used estimates of national SCA frequencies and data on projected birth rates to calculate that the number of newborns with SCA will increase from about 305,800 in 2010 to about 404,200 in 2050. They estimated that Nigeria, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), and India accounted for 57% of newborns with SCA in 2010, and that Nigeria and the DRC will probably still be the countries most in need of policies for the prevention and management of SCA in 2050. The researchers then assessed how many newborns might be saved by the implementation of various health measures in 2015 that affect excess mortality (the difference between the frequency of SCA in newborns and in five-year-olds divided by the frequency of SCA in newborns) among children born with SCA. Implementation of prenatal diagnosis and newborn screening programs, and provision of antibiotics and vaccinations (interventions assumed by the researchers to reduce excess mortality from 90% to 50% in low- and middle-income countries and from 10% to 5% in high-income countries) could prolong the life of more than five million newborns with SCA by 2050. Implementation of universal screening and provision of other specific measures predicted to reduce excess mortality to 5% and 0% in low-to-middle-income countries and high-income countries, respectively, could save nearly ten million lives by 2050.
What Do These Findings Mean?
In estimating the global burden of SCA in children under five years old between 2010 and 2050 and the number of newborn lives that could be saved by implementation of health interventions, the researchers made numerous assumptions reflected in the uncertainty associated with the projections. For example, they assumed that implementation of specific interventions would lead to an immediate reduction of excess mortality in newborns with SCA. The study's findings confirm, however, that the global burden of SCA is increasing and indicate that the implementation of specific interventions could extend the lives of millions of newborns with SCA. Although further studies are needed to assess the current and future health care needs of children with SCA, these findings highlight the need to develop and implement national public health planning and funding policies for SCA, particularly in low- and middle-income countries.
Additional Information
Please access these websites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1001484.
This study is further discussed in a PLOS Medicine Perspective by Edward Fottrell and David Osrin
The US National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute provides detailed information (including personal stories) about sickle cell anemia (in English and Spanish)
The UK National Health Service Choices website also provides detailed information and a personal story about sickle cell anemia
The Sickle Cell Society, a UK-based not-for-profit organization, provides information for patients and carers and includes a children's website
The World Health Organization has a factsheet on sickle cell anemia and other inherited hemoglobin diseases (in several languages)
MedlinePlus provides links to further resources about sickle cell anemia (in English and Spanish)
The Malaria Atlas Project provides epidemiological information on the inherited blood disorders (including sickle cell anemia) that affect our response to malaria infection
The Global Sickle Cell Disease Network is a portal bringing together leading sickle cell disease researchers and clinicians from high-, middle-, and low-income countries to form a network
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1001484
PMCID: PMC3712914  PMID: 23874164
22.  Intermittent Preventive Treatment of Malaria Provides Substantial Protection against Malaria in Children Already Protected by an Insecticide-Treated Bednet in Mali: A Randomised, Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled Trial 
PLoS Medicine  2011;8(2):e1000407.
A randomized trial reported by Alassane Dicko and colleagues shows that intermittent preventive treatment for malaria in children who are protected from mosquitoes by insecticide-treated bednets provides substantial protection from malaria.
Background
Previous studies have shown that in areas of seasonal malaria transmission, intermittent preventive treatment of malaria in children (IPTc), targeting the transmission season, reduces the incidence of clinical malaria. However, these studies were conducted in communities with low coverage with insecticide-treated nets (ITNs). Whether IPTc provides additional protection to children sleeping under an ITN has not been established.
Methods and Findings
To assess whether IPTc provides additional protection to children sleeping under an ITN, we conducted a randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial of IPTc with sulphadoxine pyrimethamine (SP) plus amodiaquine (AQ) in three localities in Kati, Mali. After screening, eligible children aged 3–59 mo were given a long-lasting insecticide-treated net (LLIN) and randomised to receive three rounds of active drugs or placebos. Treatments were administered under observation at monthly intervals during the high malaria transmission season in August, September, and October 2008. Adverse events were monitored immediately after the administration of each course of IPTc and throughout the follow-up period. The primary endpoint was clinical episodes of malaria recorded through passive surveillance by study clinicians available at all times during the follow-up. Cross-sectional surveys were conducted in 150 randomly selected children weekly and in all children at the end of the malaria transmission season to assess usage of ITNs and the impact of IPTc on the prevalence of malaria, anaemia, and malnutrition. Cox regression was used to compare incidence rates between intervention and control arms. The effects of IPTc on the prevalence of malaria infection and anaemia were estimated using logistic regression. 3,065 children were screened and 3,017 (1,508 in the control and 1,509 in the intervention arm) were enrolled in the study. 1,485 children (98.5%) in the control arm and 1,481 (98.1%) in the intervention arm completed follow-up. During the intervention period, the proportion of children reported to have slept under an ITN was 99.7% in the control and 99.3% in intervention arm (p = 0.45). A total of 672 episodes of clinical malaria defined as fever or a history of fever and the presence of at least 5,000 asexual forms of Plasmodium falciparum per microlitre (incidence rate of 1.90; 95% confidence interval [CI] 1.76–2.05 episodes per person year) were observed in the control arm versus 126 (incidence rate of 0.34; 95% CI 0.29–0.41 episodes per person year) in the intervention arm, indicating a protective effect (PE) of 82% (95% CI 78%–85%) (p<0.001) on the primary endpoint. There were 15 episodes of severe malaria in children in the control arm compared to two in children in the intervention group giving a PE of 87% (95% CI 42%–99%) (p = 0.001). IPTc reduced the prevalence of malaria infection by 85% (95% CI 73%–92%) (p<0.001) during the intervention period and by 46% (95% CI 31%–68%) (p<0.001) at the end of the intervention period. The prevalence of moderate anaemia (haemoglobin [Hb] <8 g/dl) was reduced by 47% (95% CI 15%–67%) (p<0.007) at the end of intervention period. The frequencies of adverse events were similar between the two arms. There was no drug-related serious adverse event.
Conclusions
IPTc given during the malaria transmission season provided substantial protection against clinical episodes of malaria, malaria infection, and anaemia in children using an LLIN. SP+AQ was safe and well tolerated. These findings indicate that IPTc could make a valuable contribution to malaria control in areas of seasonal malaria transmission alongside other interventions.
Trial Registration
ClinicalTrials.gov NCT00738946
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Background
Malaria accounts for one in five of all childhood deaths in Africa and of the one million annual malarial deaths world-wide, over 75% occur in African children <5 years old infected with Plasmodium falciparum. Malaria also causes severe morbidity in children, such as anemia, low birth-weight, epilepsy, and neurological problems, which compromise the health and development of millions of children living in malaria endemic areas. As much of the impact of malaria on African children can be effectively prevented, significant efforts have been made in recent years to improve malaria control, such as the implementation of intermittent preventive treatment (IPT) of malaria.
IPT involves administration of antimalarial drugs at defined time intervals to individuals, regardless of whether they are known to be infected with malaria, to prevent morbidity and mortality. IPT was initially recommended for pregnant women and recently this strategy was extended to include infants (IPTi). Now, there is also intermittent preventive treatment of malaria in children (IPTc), which is designed to protect against seasonal malaria transmission including those above one year of age.
Why Was This Study Done?
Large clinical trials have shown that IPTc involving the administration of two to three doses of an antimalarial drug (sulphadoxine pyrimethamine [SP] and artesunate [AS] or amodiaquine [AQ]) during the high malaria transmission season effectively reduces the incidence of malaria. However, these studies were conducted in countries where the use of insecticide-treated bednets—an intervention that provides at least 50% protection against morbidity from malaria and is the main tool used for malaria control in most of sub-Saharan Africa—was relatively low. Therefore, it is unclear whether IPTc will be as effective in children who sleep under insecticide-treated bednets as has been previously shown in communities where insecticide-treated bednet usage is low. So to determine the answer to this important question, the researchers conducted a randomized, placebo controlled trial of IPTc with SP+AQ (chosen because of the effectiveness of this combination in a pilot study) in children who slept under an insecticide-treated bednet in an area of seasonal malaria transmission in Mali.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers enrolled 3,017 eligible children aged 3–59 months into a randomized double-blind, placebo-controlled trial during the 2008 malaria transmission season in Mali. All children were given a long-lasting insecticide-treated bednet at the start of the study with instructions to their family on the correct use of the net. Children were then randomized into two arms—1,509 were allocated to the intervention group and 1,508 to the control group—to receive three courses of IPTc with SP plus AQ or placebos given at monthly intervals during the peak malaria transmission season. The researchers monitored the incidence of malaria throughout the malaria season and also monitored the use of long-lasting insecticide-treated bednets throughout the study period. In addition, researchers conducted a cross-sectional survey in 150 randomly selected children every week and in every child enrolled in the trial 6 weeks after the last course of IPTc, to measure their temperature, height and weight, and blood hemoglobin and parasite level.
The number of children who slept under their long-lasting insecticide-treated bednet was similar in both arms. During the intervention period, the researchers observed a total of 672 episodes of clinical malaria (defined as fever or a history of fever and the presence of at least 5,000 asexual forms of Plasmodium falciparum per microliter) in the control arm versus 126 episodes in the intervention arm, which is an incidence rate of 1.90 episodes per person year in the control arm versus 0.34 in the interventions arm—giving a protective efficacy of 87%. IPTc reduced the prevalence of malaria infection during the intervention period by 85% and by 46% at the end of the intervention period. The prevalence of moderate anemia was also reduced (by 47%) at the end of intervention period. The frequencies of adverse events were similar between the two arms and there were no drug-related serious adverse events.
What Do These Findings Mean?
The results of this study show that in peak malarial transmission season in Mali, IPTc provides substantial additional protection against episodes of clinical malaria and severe malaria in children sleeping under long-lasting insecticide-treated bednets. In addition, intermittent preventive treatment of malaria with SP plus AQ appears to be safe and well tolerated for use in children.
Additional Information
Please access these websites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1000407.
This topic is further discussed in two PLoS Medicine research articles by Konat et al. and Bojang et al., and a PLoS Medicine Perspective by Beeson
Roll Back Malaria has information about malaria in children, including intervention strategies and an information sheet on insecticide-treated bednets
UNICEF also provides comprehensive information about malaria in children
The Intermittent Preventive Treatment in Infants Consortium (ipti) provides information on intermittent preventive treatment in infants
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1000407
PMCID: PMC3032550  PMID: 21304923
23.  Child Mortality Estimation: Consistency of Under-Five Mortality Rate Estimates Using Full Birth Histories and Summary Birth Histories 
PLoS Medicine  2012;9(8):e1001296.
Romesh Silva assesses and analyzes differences in direct and indirect methods of estimating under-five mortality rates using data collected from full and summary birth histories in Demographic and Health Surveys from West Africa, East Africa, Latin America, and South/Southeast Asia.
Background
Given the lack of complete vital registration data in most developing countries, for many countries it is not possible to accurately estimate under-five mortality rates from vital registration systems. Heavy reliance is often placed on direct and indirect methods for analyzing data collected from birth histories to estimate under-five mortality rates. Yet few systematic comparisons of these methods have been undertaken. This paper investigates whether analysts should use both direct and indirect estimates from full birth histories, and under what circumstances indirect estimates derived from summary birth histories should be used.
Methods and Findings
Usings Demographic and Health Surveys data from West Africa, East Africa, Latin America, and South/Southeast Asia, I quantify the differences between direct and indirect estimates of under-five mortality rates, analyze data quality issues, note the relative effects of these issues, and test whether these issues explain the observed differences. I find that indirect estimates are generally consistent with direct estimates, after adjustment for fertility change and birth transference, but don't add substantial additional insight beyond direct estimates. However, choice of direct or indirect method was found to be important in terms of both the adjustment for data errors and the assumptions made about fertility.
Conclusions
Although adjusted indirect estimates are generally consistent with adjusted direct estimates, some notable inconsistencies were observed for countries that had experienced either a political or economic crisis or stalled health transition in their recent past. This result suggests that when a population has experienced a smooth mortality decline or only short periods of excess mortality, both adjusted methods perform equally well. However, the observed inconsistencies identified suggest that the indirect method is particularly prone to bias resulting from violations of its strong assumptions about recent mortality and fertility. Hence, indirect estimates of under-five mortality rates from summary birth histories should be used only for populations that have experienced either smooth mortality declines or only short periods of excess mortality in their recent past.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary.
Editors' Summary
Background
In 1990, 12 million children died before they reached their fifth birthday. Faced with this largely avoidable loss of young lives, in 2000, world leaders set a target of reducing under-five mortality (death) to one-third of its 1990 level by 2015 as Millennium Development Goal 4 (MDG 4); this goal, together with seven others, aims to eradicate extreme poverty globally. To track progress towards MDG 4, experts need accurate estimates of the global and country-specific under-five mortality rate (U5MR, the probability of a child dying before age five). The most reliable sources of data for U5MR estimation are vital registration systems—national records of all births and deaths. Unfortunately, developing countries, which are where most childhood deaths occur, rarely have such records, so full or summary birth histories provide the data for U5MR estimation instead. In full birth histories (FBHs), which are collected through household surveys such as those conducted by Demographic and Health Surveys (DHS), women are asked for the date of birth of all their children and the age at death of any children who have died. In summary birth histories (SBHs), which are collected through household surveys and censuses, women are asked how many children they have had and how many are alive at the time of the survey.
Why Was This Study Done?
“Direct” estimates of U5MRs can be obtained from FBHs because FBHs provide detailed information about the date of death and the exposure of children to the risk of dying. By contrast, because SBHs do not contain information on children's exposure to the risk of dying, “indirect” estimates of U5MR are obtained from SBHs using model life tables (mathematical models of the variation of mortality with age). Indirect estimates are often also derived from FBHs, but few systematic comparisons of direct and indirect methods for U5MR estimation have been undertaken. In this study, Romesh Silva investigates whether direct and indirect methods provide consistent U5MR estimates from FBHs and whether there are any circumstances under which indirect methods provide more reliable U5MR estimates than direct methods.
What Did the Researcher Do and Find?
The researcher used DHS data from West Africa, East Africa, Latin America, and South/Southeast Asia to quantify the differences between direct and indirect estimates of U5MR calculated from the same data and analyzed possible reasons for these differences. Estimates obtained using a version of the “Brass” indirect estimation method were uniformly higher than those obtained using direct estimation. Indirect and direct estimates generally agreed, however, after adjustment for changes in fertility—the Brass method assumes that country-specific fertility (the number of children born to a woman during her reproductive life) remains constant—and for birth transference, an important source of data error in FBHs that arises because DHS field staff can lessen their workload by recording births as occurring before a preset cutoff date rather than after that date. Notably, though, for countries that had experienced political or economic crises, periods of excess mortality due to conflicts, or periods during which the health transition had stalled (as countries become more affluent, overall mortality rates decline and noncommunicable diseases replace infectious diseases as the major causes of death), marked differences between indirect and direct estimates of U5MR remained, even after these adjustments.
What Do These Findings Mean?
Because the countries included in this study do not have vital registration systems, these findings provide no information about the validity of either direct or indirect estimation methods for U5MR estimation. They suggest, however, that for countries where there has been a smooth decline in mortality or only short periods of excess mortality, both direct and indirect methods of U5MR estimation work equally well, after adjustment for changes in fertility and for birth transference, and that indirect estimates add little to the insights provided into childhood mortality by direct estimates. Importantly, the inconsistencies observed between the two methods that remain after adjustment suggest that indirect U5MR estimation is more susceptible to bias (systematic errors that arise because of the assumptions used to estimate U5MR) than direct estimation. Thus, indirect estimates of U5MR from SBHs should be used only for populations that have experienced either smooth mortality declines or only short periods of excess mortality in their recent past.
Additional Information
Please access these websites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1001296.
This paper is part of a collection of papers on Child Mortality Estimation Methods published in PLOS Medicine
The United Nations Childrens Fund (UNICEF) works for children's rights, survival, development, and protection around the world; it provides information on Millennium Development Goal 4, and its Childinfo website provides detailed statistics about child survival and health, including a description of the United Nations Inter-agency Group for Child Mortality Estimation; the 2011 UN IGME report Levels & Trends in Child Mortality is available
The World Health Organization has information about Millennium Development Goal 4 and provides estimates of child mortality rates (some information in several languages)
Further information about the Millennium Development Goals is available
Information is available about infant and child mortality data collected by Demographic and Health Surveys
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1001296
PMCID: PMC3429405  PMID: 22952436
24.  The Effect of Adding Ready-to-Use Supplementary Food to a General Food Distribution on Child Nutritional Status and Morbidity: A Cluster-Randomized Controlled Trial 
PLoS Medicine  2012;9(9):e1001313.
Lieven Huybregts and colleagues investigate how supplementing a general food distribution with a fortified lipid-based spread during a seasonal hunger gap in Chad affects anthropometric and morbidity outcomes for children aged 6 to 36 months.
Background
Recently, operational organizations active in child nutrition in developing countries have suggested that blanket feeding strategies be adopted to enable the prevention of child wasting. A new range of nutritional supplements is now available, with claims that they can prevent wasting in populations at risk of periodic food shortages. Evidence is lacking as to the effectiveness of such preventive interventions. This study examined the effect of a ready-to-use supplementary food (RUSF) on the prevention of wasting in 6- to 36-mo-old children within the framework of a general food distribution program.
Methods and Findings
We conducted a two-arm cluster-randomized controlled pragmatic intervention study in a sample of 1,038 children aged 6 to 36 mo in the city of Abeche, Chad. Both arms were included in a general food distribution program providing staple foods. The intervention group was given a daily 46 g of RUSF for 4 mo. Anthropometric measurements and morbidity were recorded monthly. Adding RUSF to a package of monthly household food rations for households containing a child assigned to the intervention group did not result in a reduction in cumulative incidence of wasting (incidence risk ratio: 0.86; 95% CI: 0.67, 1.11; p = 0.25). However, the intervention group had a modestly higher gain in height-for-age (+0.03 Z-score/mo; 95% CI: 0.01, 0.04; p<0.001). In addition, children in the intervention group had a significantly higher hemoglobin concentration at the end of the study than children in the control group (+3.8 g/l; 95% CI: 0.6, 7.0; p = 0.02), thereby reducing the odds of anemia (odds ratio: 0.52; 95% CI: 0.34, 0.82; p = 0.004). Adding RUSF also resulted in a significantly lower risk of self-reported diarrhea (−29.3%; 95% CI: 20.5, 37.2; p<0.001) and fever episodes (−22.5%; 95% CI: 14.0, 30.2; p<0.001). Limitations of this study include that the projected sample size was not fully attained and that significantly fewer children from the control group were present at follow-up sessions.
Conclusions
Providing RUSF as part of a general food distribution resulted in improvements in hemoglobin status and small improvements in linear growth, accompanied by an apparent reduction in morbidity.
Trial registration
ClinicalTrials.gov NCT01154595
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary.
Editors' Summary
Background
Good nutrition during childhood is essential for health and survival. Undernourished children are more susceptible to infections and are more likely to die from common ailments such as diarrhea than well-nourished children. Globally, undernutrition contributes to about a third of deaths among children under five years old. Experts use three physical measurements to determine whether a child is undernourished. An “underweight” child has a low weight for his or her age and gender when compared to the World Health Organization Child Growth Standards, which chart the growth of a reference population. A “stunted” child has a low height for his or her age; stunting indicates chronic undernutrition. A “wasted” child has a low weight for his or her height; wasting indicates acute undernutrition and can be caused by disasters or seasonal food shortages. Recent estimates indicate that about a fifth of young children in developing countries are underweight, and one third are stunted; in south Asia and west/central Africa, more than one tenth of children are wasted, a condition that markedly increases the risk of death.
Why Was This Study Done?
In emergency situations, international organizations support affected populations by providing “general food distributions.” Recently, there have been claims that the provision of targeted nutritional supplements within a general food distribution framework effectively prevents child wasting, but there is little evidence to support these claims. In this cluster-randomized controlled trial, the researchers investigate the effect of a targeted daily dose of a “ready-to-use supplementary food” (RUSF; a lipid-based nutrient supplement) on indicators of undernutrition in 6- to 36-month-old, non-wasted children in Chad, a country beset by a severe food crisis. Political instability in this central African country has severely reduced the nutritional status of children, and annual droughts, which affect crop production, cause a “hunger gap” between June and October. In a recent survey, one fifth of children in Chad were wasted at the beginning of this hunger gap. A cluster-randomized trial randomly assigns groups of people to receive alternative interventions and compares the outcomes in the differently treated “clusters.”
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers randomly assigned fourteen household clusters in the city of Abeche, Chad, to the trial's intervention or control arm. All the households received a general food distribution that included staple foods; eligible children in the intervention households were also given a daily RUSF ration between June and September 2010. The researchers regularly measured the children's weights and heights, recorded illnesses reported by caregivers, and measured each child's blood hemoglobin level before and after the intervention to assess their risk of anemia, an indicator of poor nutrition. The addition of RUSF to the household food rations did not significantly reduce the cumulative incidence of wasting. That is, although fewer children in the intervention group became wasted during the trial than in the control group, this difference was not statistically significant—it could have happened by chance. However, compared to the children in the control group, those in the intervention group had a significantly greater gain in height-for-age (equivalent to a difference in height gain of 0.09 cm/month), slightly higher hemoglobin levels at the end of the study, which significantly reduced their anemia risk, and a significantly lower risk of self-reported diarrhea and fever.
What Do These Findings Mean?
Although targeted RUSF provided as part of a general food distribution had no significant effect on wasting in young children in Abeche, Chad, the intervention improved their hemoglobin status and linear growth, and reduced illness among them. Why didn't targeted RUSF prevent wasting effectively in this trial? Maybe the effect of RUSF was diluted out by the effect of the general food distribution or maybe the trial was too short to see a clear effect. Most importantly, though, the trial may have been too small to see a clear effect—the researchers were unable to enroll as many children into their trial as they had planned because of political instability in Chad, and this probably limited the trial's ability to detect small differences between the control and intervention groups. Nevertheless, because these findings provide no clear evidence that adding RUSF to a household food ration effectively prevents wasting, alternative ways to prevent acute malnutrition in Chad and other vulnerable regions of the world should be investigated.
Additional Information
Please access these websites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1001313.
This study is further discussed in a PLOS Medicine Perspective by Kathryn Dewey and Mary Arimond
Action Contra la Faim–France has a web page that describes the situation in Chad
The United Nations Childrens Fund, which protects the rights of children and young people around the world, provides detailed statistics on child undernutrition; it has detailed information, including videos, about the current food crisis in Chad and the Sahel
The WHO Child Growth Standards are available (in several languages)
The United Nations provides information on ongoing world efforts to reduce hunger and child mortality
The World Food Programme is the world's largest humanitarian agency fighting hunger worldwide; its website provides detailed information about malnutrition in Chad, including a video of the current food crisis in the country
Starved for Attention is an international multimedia campaign launched in 2010 by Médecins Sans Frontiéres (MSF) and the VII Photo agency to rewrite the story of childhood malnutrition; information about MSFs work in Chad to tackle malnutrition is available
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1001313
PMCID: PMC3445445  PMID: 23028263
25.  The Role of Viral Introductions in Sustaining Community-Based HIV Epidemics in Rural Uganda: Evidence from Spatial Clustering, Phylogenetics, and Egocentric Transmission Models 
PLoS Medicine  2014;11(3):e1001610.
Using different approaches to investigate HIV transmission patterns, Justin Lessler and colleagues find that extra-community HIV introductions are frequent and likely play a role in sustaining the epidemic in the Rakai community.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Background
It is often assumed that local sexual networks play a dominant role in HIV spread in sub-Saharan Africa. The aim of this study was to determine the extent to which continued HIV transmission in rural communities—home to two-thirds of the African population—is driven by intra-community sexual networks versus viral introductions from outside of communities.
Methods and Findings
We analyzed the spatial dynamics of HIV transmission in rural Rakai District, Uganda, using data from a cohort of 14,594 individuals within 46 communities. We applied spatial clustering statistics, viral phylogenetics, and probabilistic transmission models to quantify the relative contribution of viral introductions into communities versus community- and household-based transmission to HIV incidence. Individuals living in households with HIV-incident (n = 189) or HIV-prevalent (n = 1,597) persons were 3.2 (95% CI: 2.7–3.7) times more likely to be HIV infected themselves compared to the population in general, but spatial clustering outside of households was relatively weak and was confined to distances <500 m. Phylogenetic analyses of gag and env genes suggest that chains of transmission frequently cross community boundaries. A total of 95 phylogenetic clusters were identified, of which 44% (42/95) were two individuals sharing a household. Among the remaining clusters, 72% (38/53) crossed community boundaries. Using the locations of self-reported sexual partners, we estimate that 39% (95% CI: 34%–42%) of new viral transmissions occur within stable household partnerships, and that among those infected by extra-household sexual partners, 62% (95% CI: 55%–70%) are infected by sexual partners from outside their community. These results rely on the representativeness of the sample and the quality of self-reported partnership data and may not reflect HIV transmission patterns outside of Rakai.
Conclusions
Our findings suggest that HIV introductions into communities are common and account for a significant proportion of new HIV infections acquired outside of households in rural Uganda, though the extent to which this is true elsewhere in Africa remains unknown. Our results also suggest that HIV prevention efforts should be implemented at spatial scales broader than the community and should target key populations likely responsible for introductions into communities.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Background
About 35 million people (25 million of whom live in sub-Saharan Africa) are currently infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, and about 2.3 million people become newly infected every year. HIV destroys immune system cells, leaving infected individuals susceptible to other infections. HIV infection can be controlled by taking antiretroviral drugs (antiretroviral therapy, or ART) daily throughout life. Although originally available only to people living in wealthy countries, recent political efforts mean that 9.7 million people in low- and middle-income countries now have access to ART. However, ART does not cure HIV infection, so prevention of viral transmission remains extremely important. Because HIV is usually transmitted through unprotected sex with an infected partner, individuals can reduce their risk of infection by abstaining from sex, by having one or a few partners, and by using condoms. Male circumcision also reduces HIV transmission. In addition to reducing illness and death among HIV-positive people, ART also reduces HIV transmission.
Why Was This Study Done?
Effective HIV control requires an understanding of how HIV spreads through sexual networks. These networks include sexual partnerships between individuals in households, between community members in different households, and between individuals from different communities. Local sexual networks (household and intra-community sexual partnerships) are sometimes assumed to be the dominant driving force in HIV spread in sub-Saharan Africa, but are viral introductions from sexual partnerships with individuals outside the community also important? This question needs answering because the effectiveness of interventions such as ART as prevention partly depends on how many new infections in an intervention area are attributable to infection from partners residing in that area and how many are attributable to infection from partners living elsewhere. Here, the researchers use three analytical methods—spatial clustering statistics, viral phylogenetics, and egocentric transmission modeling—to ask whether HIV transmission in rural Uganda is driven predominantly by intra-community sexual networks. Spatial clustering analysis uses the geographical coordinates of households to measure the tendency of HIV-infected people to cluster spatially at scales consistent with community transmission. Viral phylogenetic analysis examines the genetic relatedness of viruses; if transmission is through local networks, viruses in newly infected individuals should more closely resemble viruses in other community members than those in people outside the community. Egocentric transmission modelling uses information on the locations of recent sexual partners to estimate the proportions of new transmissions from household, intra-community, and extra-community partners.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers applied their three analytical methods to data collected from 14,594 individuals living in 46 communities (governmental administrative units) in Rakai District, Uganda. Spatial clustering analysis indicated that individuals who lived in households with individuals with incident HIV (newly diagnosed) or prevalent HIV (previously diagnosed) were 3.2 times more likely than the general population to be HIV-positive themselves. Spatial clustering outside households was relatively weak, however, and was confined to distances of less than half a kilometer. Viral phylogenetic analysis indicated that 44% of phylogenetic clusters (viruses with related genetic sequences found in more than one individual) were within households, but that 40% of clusters crossed community borders. Finally, analysis of the locations of self-reported sexual partners indicated that 39% of new viral transmissions occurred within stable household partnerships, but that among people newly infected by extra-household partners, nearly two-thirds were infected by partners from outside their community.
What Do These Findings Mean?
The results of all three analyses suggest that HIV introductions into communities are frequent and are likely to play an important role in sustaining HIV transmission in the Rakai District. Specifically, within this rural HIV-endemic region (a region where HIV infection is always present), viral introductions combined with intra-household transmission account for the majority of new infections, although community-based sexual networks also play a critical role in HIV transmission. These findings may not be generalizable to the broader Ugandan population or to other regions of Africa, and their accuracy is likely to be limited by the use of self-reported sexual partner data. Nevertheless, these findings indicate that the dynamics of HIV transmission in rural Uganda (and probably elsewhere) are complex. Consequently, to halt the spread of HIV, prevention efforts will need to be implemented at spatial scales broader than individual communities, and key populations that are likely to introduce HIV into communities will need to be targeted.
Additional Information
Please access these websites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1001610.
Information is available from the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases on HIV infection and AIDS
NAM/aidsmap provides basic information about HIV/AIDS, and summaries of recent research findings on HIV care and treatment
Information is available from Avert, an international AIDS charity, on many aspects of HIV/AIDS, including information on HIV and AIDS in Uganda and on HIV prevention strategies (in English and Spanish)
The UNAIDS Report on the Global AIDS Epidemic 2013 provides up-to-date information about the AIDS epidemic and efforts to halt it
The Center for AIDS Prevention Studies (University of California, San Francisco) has a fact sheet about sexual networks and HIV prevention
Wikipedia provides information on spatial clustering analysis (note that Wikipedia is a free online encyclopedia that anyone can edit; available in several languages)
A PLOS Computational Biology Topic Page (a review article that is a published copy of record of a dynamic version of the article as found in Wikipedia) about viral phylodynamics is available
Personal stories about living with HIV/AIDS are available through Avert, NAM/aidsmap, and Healthtalkonline
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1001610
PMCID: PMC3942316  PMID: 24595023

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