Background: The Expanded Programme on Immunisation (EPI) provides an effective way of delivering intermittent preventive treatment for malaria (IPT) to infants. However, it is uncertain how IPT can be delivered most effectively to older children. Therefore, we have compared two approaches to the delivery of IPT to Gambian children: distribution by village health workers (VHWs) or through reproductive and child health (RCH) trekking teams. In rural areas, RCH trekking teams provide most of the health care to children under the age of 5 years in the Infant Welfare Clinic, and provide antenatal care for pregnant women.
Methods and findings: During the 2006 malaria transmission season, the catchment populations of 26 RCH trekking clinics in The Gambia, each with 400-500 children 6 years of age and under, were randomly allocated to receive IPT from an RCH trekking team or from a VHW. Treatment with a single dose of sulfadoxine pyrimethamine (SP) plus three doses of amodiaquine (AQ) were given at monthly intervals during the malaria transmission season. Morbidity from malaria was monitored passively throughout the malaria transmission season in all children, and a random sample of study children from each cluster was examined at the end of the malaria transmission season. The primary study endpoint was the incidence of malaria. Secondary endpoints included coverage of IPTc, mean haemoglobin (Hb) concentration, and the prevalence of asexual malaria parasitaemia at the end of malaria transmission period. Financial and economic costs associated with the two delivery strategies were collected and incremental cost and effects were compared. A nested case-control study was used to estimate efficacy of IPT treatment courses. Treatment with SP plus AQ was safe and well tolerated. There were 49 cases of malaria with parasitaemia above 5,000/µl in the areas where IPT was delivered through RCH clinics and 21 cases in the areas where IPT was delivered by VHWs, (incidence rates 2.8 and 1.2 per 1,000 child months, respectively, rate difference 1.6 [95% confidence interval (CI) -0.24 to 3.5]). Delivery through VHWs achieved a substantially higher coverage level of three courses of IPT than delivery by RCH trekking teams (74% versus 48%, a difference of 27% [95% CI 16%-38%]). For both methods of delivery, coverage was unrelated to indices of wealth, with similar coverage being achieved in the poorest and wealthiest groups. The prevalence of anaemia was low in both arms of the trial at the end of the transmission season. Efficacy of IPTc against malaria during the month after each treatment course was 87% (95% CI 54%-96%). Delivery of IPTc by VHWs was less costly in both economic and financial terms than delivery through RCH trekking teams, resulting in incremental savings of US$872 and US$1,244 respectively. The annual economic cost of delivering at least the first dose of each course of IPTc was US$3.47 and US$1.63 per child using trekking team and VHWs respectively.
Conclusions: In this setting in The Gambia, delivery of IPTc to children 6 years of age and under by VHWs is more effective and less costly than delivery through RCH trekking clinics.
Trial registration: ClinicalTrials.gov NCT00376155. Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary.