Background: No satisfactory strategy for reducing high child mortality from malaria has yet been established in tropical Africa. We compared the effect on under-5 mortality of teaching mothers to promptly provide antimalarials to their sick children at home, with the present community health worker approach.
Methods: Of 37 tabias (cluster of villages) in two districts with hyperendemic to holoendemic malaria, tabias reported to have the highest malaria morbidity were selected. A census was done which included a maternity history to determine under-5 mortality. Tabias (population 70,506) were paired according to under-5 mortality rates. One tabia from each pair was allocated by random number to an intervention group and the other was allocated to the control group. In the intervention tabias, mother coordinators were trained to teach other local mothers to recognise symptoms of malaria in their children and to promptly give chloroquine. In both intervention and control tabias, all births and deaths of under-5s were recorded monthly.
Findings: From January to December 1997, 190 of 6383 (29.8 per 1000) children under-5 died in the intervention tabias compared with 366 of 7294 (50.2 per 1000) in the control tabias. Under-5 mortality was reduced by 40% in the intervention localities (95% CI from 29.2-50.6; paired t test, p<0.003). For every third child who died, a structured verbal autopsy was undertaken to ascribe cause of mortality as consistent with malaria or possible malaria, or not consistent with malaria. Of the 190 verbal autopsies, 13 (19%) of 70 in the intervention tabias were consistent with possible malaria compared with 68 (57%) of 120 in the control tabias.
Interpretation: A major reduction in under-5 mortality can be achieved in holoendemic malaria areas through training local mother coordinators to teach mothers to give under-5 children antimalarial drugs.