Background: While feasibility of new health technologies in well-resourced healthcare settings is extensively documented, it is largely unknown in low-resourced settings. Uganda's decision to deploy and scale up malaria rapid diagnostic tests (mRDTs) in public health facilities and at the community level provides a useful entry point for documenting field experience, acceptance, and predictive variables for technology acceptance and use. These findings are important in informing implementation of new health technologies, plans, and budgets in low-resourced national disease control programmes.
Methods: A cross-sectional qualitative descriptive study at 21 health centres in Uganda was undertaken in 2007 to elucidate the barriers and facilitators in the introduction of mRDTs as a new diagnostic technology at lower-level health facilities. Pre-tested interview questionnaires were administered through pre-structured patient exit interviews and semi-structured health worker interviews to gain an understanding of the response to this implementation. A conceptual framework on technology acceptance and use was adapted for this study and used to prepare the questionnaires. Thematic analysis was used to generate themes from the data.
Results: A total of 52 of 57 health workers (92%) reported a belief that a positive mRDT result was true, although only 41 of 57 (64%) believed that treatment with anti-malarials was justified for every positive mRDT case. Of the same health workers, only 49% believed that a negative mRDT result was truly negative. Factors linked to these findings were related to mRDT acceptance and use, including the design and characteristics of the device, availability and quality of mRDT ancillary supplies, health worker capacity to investigate febrile cases testing negative with the device and provide appropriate treatment, availability of effective malaria treatments, reliability of the health commodity supply chain, existing national policy recommendations, individual health worker dynamism, and vitality of supervision.
Conclusions: mRDTs were found to be acceptable to and used by the target users, provided clear policy guidelines exist, ancillary tools are easy to use and health supplies beyond the diagnostic tools are met. Based on our results, health workers' needs for comprehensive case management should be met, and specific guidance for managing febrile patients with negative test outcomes should be provided alongside the new health technology. The extent, to which the implementation process of mRDT-led, parasite-based diagnosis accommodates end user beliefs, attitudes, perceptions, and satisfaction, as well as technology learnability and suitability, influences the level of acceptance and use of mRDTs. The effectiveness of the health system in providing the enabling environment and the integration of the diagnostic tool into routine service delivery is critical.