Background: The Zambia Malaria Indicator Survey (ZMIS) of 2006 was the first nation-wide malaria survey, which combined parasitological data with other malaria indicators such as net use, indoor residual spraying and household related aspects. The survey was carried out by the Zambian Ministry of Health and partners with the objective of estimating the coverage of interventions and malaria related burden in children less than five years. In this study, the ZMIS data were analysed in order (i) to estimate an empirical high-resolution parasitological risk map in the country and (ii) to assess the relation between malaria interventions and parasitaemia risk after adjusting for environmental and socio-economic confounders.
Methods: The parasitological risk was predicted from Bayesian geostatistical and spatially independent models relating parasitaemia risk and environmental/climatic predictors of malaria. A number of models were fitted to capture the (potential) non-linearity in the malaria-environment relation and to identify the elapsing time between environmental effects and parasitaemia risk. These models included covariates (a) in categorical scales and (b) in penalized and basis splines terms. Different model validation methods were used to identify the best fitting model. Model-based risk predictions at unobserved locations were obtained via Bayesian predictive distributions for the best fitting model.
Results: Model validation indicated that linear environmental predictors were able to fit the data as well as or even better than more complex non-linear terms and that the data do not support spatial dependence. Overall the averaged population-adjusted parasitaemia risk was 20.0% in children less than five years with the highest risk predicted in the northern (38.3%) province. The odds of parasitaemia in children living in a household with at least one bed net decreases by 40% (CI: 12%, 61%) compared to those without bed nets.
Conclusions: The map of parasitaemia risk together with the prediction error and the population at risk give an important overview of the malaria situation in Zambia. These maps can assist to achieve better resource allocation, health management and to target additional interventions to reduce the burden of malaria in Zambia significantly. Repeated surveys will enable the evaluation of the effectiveness of on-going interventions.