Objective: To evaluate the utility of the "WHO/UNICEF algorithm for integrated management of childhood illness (IMCI) between the age of 2 months to 5 years.
Design: Prospective observational.
Setting: The Outpatient Department and Emergency Room of a medical college hospital.
Methods: 203 children presenting to Outpatient Department (n=101) or Emergency Room (n=102) were assessed and classified as per 'IMCI' algorithm and treatment required was identified. A detailed evaluation with all relevant investigations was also done for these subjects. The final diagnoses made and therapies instituted on this basis served as 'gold standard'. The diagnostic and therapeutic agreements between the 'gold standard' and the IMCI and vertical (on the basis of primary presenting complaint) algorithms were computed.
Results: More than one illness was present in 135 (66.5%) of subjects as per 'gold standard'. The mean (SD) numbers of morbidities as per the gold standard and IMCI- low and high malaria risks were 2.1 (1.1), 1.8 (1.0) and 2.2 (1.1), respectively. Subjects having any referral criteria as per IMCI module had a greater co-existence of illnesses (mean 2.6 vs. 1.6 illnesses per child, respectively). The referral criteria proved useful in predicting hospitalization and a combination of hospitalization and observation; their sensitivity and specificity were 81% and 69% and 74% and 85%, respectively. IMCI algorithms covered majority (92%) of the recorded illnesses. A total agreement with IMCI (malaria low risk) was found in 129 (64%) cases while in 43 (22%) cases, there was partial agreement. Corresponding figures for vertical (split IMCI) program were 93 (46%; p<0.001) and 41 (25%). The difference was primarily due to underdiagnoses (30%). Diagnostic discordance of IMCI algorithm and gold standard was evident for the cough category due to underdiagnosis of bronchial asthma and bronchiolitis and an overdiagnosis of pneumonia whereas the discordance for fever was due to an overdiagnosis of malaria. Identical results were found for broad treatment categories. The IMCI algorithm had a provision for preventive services of immunization (16.3% possibility of availing missed opportunities) and feeding advice.
Conclusions: There is a sound scientific basis for adopting the IMCI approach since: (i) co-existence of morbidities is frequent; (ii) severe illness is assessed with good sensitivity and specificity; and (iii) the IMCI algorithm is diagnostically and therapeutically superior to the vertical disease specific algorithms. The generic IMCI algorithm needs adaptation to reflect the regional morbidity profile.