Background: Sexually transmitted diseases (STD) are important co-factors in HIV transmission. We studied the impact of health worker training and STD syndrome packets (containing recommended drugs, condoms, partner notification cards and information leaflets) on the quality of STD case management in primary care clinics in rural South Africa.
Methods: A randomized controlled trial of five matched pairs of clinics compared the intervention with routine syndromic management. Outcomes were measured by simulated patients using standardized scripts, and included the proportion given recommended drugs; correctly case managed (given recommended drugs plus condoms and partner cards); adequately counselled; reporting good staff attitude; and consulted in privacy.
Results: At baseline, the quality of STD case management was similarly poor in both groups. Only 36 and 46% of simulated patients visiting intervention and control clinics, respectively, were given recommended drugs. After the intervention, intervention clinics provided better case management than controls: 88 versus 50% (P < 0.01) received recommended drugs; 83 versus 12% (P < 0.005) were correctly case managed; 68 versus 46% (P = 0.06) were adequately counselled; 84 versus 58% experienced good staff attitude (P = 0.07); and 92 versus 86% (P = 0.4) were consulted privately. A syndrome packet cost US$1.50; the incremental cost was US$6.80. The total intervention cost equalled 0.3% of annual district health expenditure.
Interpretation: A simple and affordable health service intervention achieved substantial improvements in STD case management. Although this is a critical component of STD control and can reduce HIV transmission, community-level interventions to influence health-seeking behaviour are also needed.