Bojang and colleagues report a randomized trial showing that delivery of intermittent preventive treatment for malaria in children by village health workers is more effective than delivery by reproductive and child health trekking clinics.
The Expanded Programme on Immunisation (EPI) provides an effective way of delivering intermittent preventive treatment for malaria (IPT) to infants. However, it is uncertain how IPT can be delivered most effectively to older children. Therefore, we have compared two approaches to the delivery of IPT to Gambian children: distribution by village health workers (VHWs) or through reproductive and child health (RCH) trekking teams. In rural areas, RCH trekking teams provide most of the health care to children under the age of 5 years in the Infant Welfare Clinic, and provide antenatal care for pregnant women.
Methods and Findings
During the 2006 malaria transmission season, the catchment populations of 26 RCH trekking clinics in The Gambia, each with 400–500 children 6 years of age and under, were randomly allocated to receive IPT from an RCH trekking team or from a VHW. Treatment with a single dose of sulfadoxine pyrimethamine (SP) plus three doses of amodiaquine (AQ) were given at monthly intervals during the malaria transmission season. Morbidity from malaria was monitored passively throughout the malaria transmission season in all children, and a random sample of study children from each cluster was examined at the end of the malaria transmission season. The primary study endpoint was the incidence of malaria. Secondary endpoints included coverage of IPTc, mean haemoglobin (Hb) concentration, and the prevalence of asexual malaria parasitaemia at the end of malaria transmission period. Financial and economic costs associated with the two delivery strategies were collected and incremental cost and effects were compared. A nested case-control study was used to estimate efficacy of IPT treatment courses.
Treatment with SP plus AQ was safe and well tolerated. There were 49 cases of malaria with parasitaemia above 5,000/µl in the areas where IPT was delivered through RCH clinics and 21 cases in the areas where IPT was delivered by VHWs, (incidence rates 2.8 and 1.2 per 1,000 child months, respectively, rate difference 1.6 [95% confidence interval (CI) −0.24 to 3.5]). Delivery through VHWs achieved a substantially higher coverage level of three courses of IPT than delivery by RCH trekking teams (74% versus 48%, a difference of 27% [95% CI 16%–38%]). For both methods of delivery, coverage was unrelated to indices of wealth, with similar coverage being achieved in the poorest and wealthiest groups. The prevalence of anaemia was low in both arms of the trial at the end of the transmission season. Efficacy of IPTc against malaria during the month after each treatment course was 87% (95% CI 54%–96%). Delivery of IPTc by VHWs was less costly in both economic and financial terms than delivery through RCH trekking teams, resulting in incremental savings of US$872 and US$1,244 respectively. The annual economic cost of delivering at least the first dose of each course of IPTc was US$3.47 and US$1.63 per child using trekking team and VHWs respectively.
In this setting in The Gambia, delivery of IPTc to children 6 years of age and under by VHWs is more effective and less costly than delivery through RCH trekking clinics.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
In sub-Saharan Africa, malaria kills 800,000 people, the majority of whom are children, every year. Intermittent preventive treatment (IPT) of malaria is an effective malaria control strategy. 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 from the infection. IPT was initially recommended for pregnant women (IPTp) who are given at least two doses of suphadoxine pyrimethamine (SP) during antenatal visits after the first trimester of pregnancy. IPT is also effective in infants (IPTi) and recently IPTi has been rolled out with the administration of three doses of an antimalarial drug during the expanded program of immunization visits. Clinical studies have also shown that IPT is effective at reducing malaria incidence in children (IPTc) by administering SP alone, or in combination with artesunate (AS) or amodiaquine (AQ,) over three intervals during the peak malarial season.
Why Was This Study Done?
The inclusion of IPTp in antenatal visits and IPTi in the expanded program of immunization has effectively scaled up these interventions to the population level. So far, IPTc has only been administered to children within the confines of clinical trials—there is currently no established system for delivery of IPTc. For the scale-up of IPTc to be successful, there needs to be an appropriate point of entry and the roll out of a delivery system that can be generalized to most settings in sub-Saharan Africa. In order to address this issue, the researchers conducted a randomized trial to compare the effectiveness of IPTc delivery to children up to 6 y of age by village health workers (VHW) or by reproductive and child health (RCH) trekking teams (run by the Ministry of Health) in rural areas of The Gambia.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
During the 2006 malaria transmission season, the researchers randomly allocated the catchment populations of 26 RCH clinics, each with 400–500 children 6 y of age and under, to receive IPT from an RCH trekking team or from a VHW. Before the trial started, the researchers, accompanied by the district health team, visited all villages in the study area to explain the purpose and methods of the study and to obtain consent from the elders of all participating villages. Eligible children were treated with a single dose of SP plus three doses of AQ given at monthly intervals during the malaria transmission season. The researchers passively monitored malaria incidence throughout the transmission season and at the end of the malaria season, examined a random sample of 40 children from each cluster to measure their temperature, height, and weight and to take a finger-prick blood sample to measure blood hemoglobin and parasite levels (by microscopy of thick blood smears). The researchers recorded the financial costs associated with each delivery strategy (mostly on the basis of staff pay and the financial incentives given to VHWs).
There were 49 cases of clinical malaria in the areas where IPT was delivered through RCH clinics and 21 cases in the areas where IPT was delivered by VHWs. In addition, VHW delivery of IPTc achieved a higher coverage level of three courses of IPT than delivery by RCH trekking teams (74% versus 48%). The prevalence of anemia was low in both arms at the end of the transmission season. Delivery of IPTc by VHWs was cheaper than delivery through RCH trekking teams, resulting in incremental savings of US$872 and US$1,244, respectively. The annual economic cost of delivering at least the first dose of each course of IPTc using the RCH trekking team was US$3.47 per child and with VHWs was US$1.63 per child.
What Do These Findings Mean?
The results of this study show that in rural areas of The Gambia, delivery of IPTc by VHWs is more effective and less costly than delivery by RCH trekking teams through RCH clinics. Delivering IPTc through community-based VHWs versus monthly visits by the RCH team has several advantages: VHWs are resident in the community, making drug administration easy and flexible (as children were able to receive their medication on any day of the month), and they can remind mothers/guardians to attend for treatment. Therefore, operationally, VHW delivery is less restrictive and more convenient for parents and guardians.
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1000409.
This topic is further discussed in two PLoS Medicine research articles by Dicko et al. and Konat et al., and a PLoS Medicine Perspective by Beeson
WHO provides information about The Gambia
WHO also provides information about the health workforce, including the role of village health workers
Roll Back Malaria has information about malaria in children, including intervention strategies
Unicef also provides comprehensive information about malaria in children