Background: As malaria control efforts intensify, it is critical to monitor trends in disease burden and measure the impact of interventions. A key surveillance indicator is the incidence of malaria. Yet measurement of incidence is challenging. The slide positivity rate (SPR) has been used as a surrogate measure of malaria incidence, but limited data exist on the relationship between SPR and the incidence of malaria.
Methods: A cohort of 690 children aged 1-10 years at enrollment were followed for all their health care needs over a four-year period in Kampala, Uganda. All children with fever underwent laboratory testing, allowing us to measure the incidence of malaria and non-malaria fevers. A formula was derived to estimate relative changes in the incidence of malaria (rDeltaIm) based on changes in the SPR and the assumption that the incidence of non-malaria fevers was consistent over time. Observed and estimated values of rDeltaIm were compared over two, six, and 12 month time intervals after restricting the analysis to children contributing observation time between the ages of 4-10 years to control for aging of the cohort.
Results: Over the four-year observation period the incidence of malaria declined significantly from 0.93 episodes per person-year in 2005 to 0.39 episodes per person-year in 2008 (p < 0.0001) and the incidence of non-malaria fevers declined significantly from 2.31 episodes per person-year in 2005 to 1.31 episodes per person-year in 2008 (p < 0.0001). Younger age was associated with a significantly greater incidence of malaria and the incidence of malaria was significantly higher during seasonal peaks occurring each January-February and May-June. Changes in SPR produced reasonably accurate estimates of rDeltaIm over all time intervals. The average absolute difference in observed and estimated values of rDeltaIm was lower for six-month intervals (0.13) than it was for two-month (0.21) or 12 month intervals (0.21).
Conclusion: Changes in SPR provided a useful estimate of changes in the incidence of malaria in a well defined cohort; however, a gradual decline in the incidence of non-malaria fevers introduced some bias in these estimates.