Objective: Implementation of the Integrated Management of Childhood Illness (IMCI) strategy with an 11-day training course for health workers improves care for ill children in outpatient settings in developing countries. The 11-day course duration is recommended by the World Health Organization, which developed IMCI. Our aim was to determine if shortening the training (to reduce cost) reduces its effectiveness.
Methods: We conducted a systematic review to compare IMCI's effectiveness with standard training (duration ≥ 11 days) versus shortened training (5-10 days). Studies were identified from a search of MEDLINE, two existing systematic reviews, and by contacting investigators. We included published or unpublished studies that evaluated IMCI's effectiveness in developing countries and reported quantitative measures of health worker practices related to managing ill children under 5 years old in public or private health facilities. Summary measures were the median of effect sizes for all outcomes from a given study, and the percentage of patients needing oral antimicrobials or rehydration who were treated according to IMCI guidelines.
Findings: Twenty-nine studies were included. Direct comparisons from three studies showed little difference between standard and shortened training. Indirect comparisons from 26 studies revealed that effect sizes for standard training versus no IMCI were greater than shortened training versus no IMCI. Across all comparisons, differences ranged from -3 to +23 percentage-points, and our best estimate was a 2 to 16 percentage-point advantage for standard training. No result was statistically significant. After IMCI training (of any duration), 34% of ill children needing oral antimicrobials or rehydration were not receiving these treatments according to IMCI guidelines.
Conclusions: Based on limited evidence, standard IMCI training seemed more effective than shortened training, although the difference might be small. As sizable performance gaps often existed after IMCI training, countries should consider implementing other interventions to support health workers after training, regardless of training duration.