by Jessica L. Cohen, Hannah H. Leslie, Indrani Saran, Günther Fink
Appropriate clinical management of malaria in children is critical for preventing progression to severe disease and for reducing the continued high burden of malaria mortality. This study aimed to assess the quality of care provided to children under 5 diagnosed with malaria across 9 sub-Saharan African countries.
Methods and findings
We used data from the Service Provision Assessment (SPA) survey. SPAs are nationally representative facility surveys capturing quality of sick-child care, facility readiness, and provider and patient characteristics. The data set contained 24,756 direct clinical observations of outpatient sick-child visits across 9 countries, including Uganda (2007), Rwanda (2007), Namibia (2009), Kenya (2010), Malawi (2013), Senegal (2013–2017), Ethiopia (2014), Tanzania (2015), and Democratic Republic of the Congo (2018). We assessed the proportion of children with a malaria diagnosis who received a blood test diagnosis and an appropriate antimalarial. We used multilevel logistic regression to assess facility and provider and patient characteristics associated with these outcomes. Subgroup analyses with the 2013–2018 country surveys only were conducted for all outcomes. Children observed were on average 20.5 months old and were most commonly diagnosed with respiratory infection (47.7%), malaria (29.7%), and/or gastrointestinal infection (19.7%). Among the 7,340 children with a malaria diagnosis, 32.5% (95% CI: 30.3%–34.7%) received both a blood-test–based diagnosis and an appropriate antimalarial. The proportion of children with a blood test diagnosis and an appropriate antimalarial ranged from 3.4% to 57.1% across countries. In the more recent surveys (2013–2018), 40.7% (95% CI: 37.7%–43.6%) of children with a malaria diagnosis received both a blood test diagnosis and appropriate antimalarial. Roughly 20% of children diagnosed with malaria received no antimalarial at all, and nearly 10% received oral artemisinin monotherapy, which is not recommended because of concerns regarding parasite resistance. Receipt of a blood test diagnosis and appropriate antimalarial was positively correlated with being seen at a facility with diagnostic equipment in stock (adjusted OR 3.67; 95% CI: 2.72–4.95) and, in the 2013–2018 subsample, with being seen at a facility with Artemisinin Combination Therapies (ACTs) in stock (adjusted OR 1.60; 95% CI:1.04–2.46). However, even if all children diagnosed with malaria were seen by a trained provider at a facility with diagnostics and medicines in stock, only a predicted 37.2% (95% CI: 34.2%–40.1%) would have received a blood test and appropriate antimalarial (44.4% for the 2013–2018 subsample). Study limitations include the lack of confirmed malaria test results for most survey years, the inability to distinguish between a diagnosis of uncomplicated or severe malaria, the absence of other relevant indicators of quality of care including dosing and examinations, and that only 9 countries were studied.
In this study, we found that a majority of children diagnosed with malaria across the 9 surveyed sub-Saharan African countries did not receive recommended care. Clinical management is positively correlated with the stocking of essential commodities and is somewhat improved in more recent years, but important quality gaps remain in the countries studied. Continued reductions in malaria mortality will require a bigger push toward quality improvements in clinical care.