Background: The intermittent screening and treatment (IST) of school children for malaria is one possible intervention strategy that could help reduce the burden of malaria among school children. Future implementation of IST will not only depend on its efficacy and cost-effectiveness but also on its acceptability to parents of the children who receive IST, as well as those responsible for its delivery. This study was conducted alongside a cluster-randomized trial to investigate local perceptions of school-based IST among parents and other stakeholders on the Kenyan south coast.
Methods: Six out of the 51 schools receiving the IST intervention were purposively sampled, based on the prevalence of Plasmodium infection, to participate in the qualitative study. Twenty-two focus group discussions and 17 in-depth interviews were conducted with parents and other key stakeholders involved in the implementation of school health programmes in the district. Data analysis was guided by the framework analysis method.
Results: High knowledge of the burden of clinical malaria on school children, the perceived benefits of preventing clinical disease through IST and previous positive experiences and interactions with other school health programmes facilitated the acceptability of IST. However, lack of understanding of the consequences of asymptomatic parasitaemia for apparently healthy school children could potentially contribute to non-adherence to treatment, and use of alternative anti-malarial drugs with simpler regimens was generally preferred. The general consensus of stakeholders was that health workers were best placed to undertake the screening and provide treatment, and although teachers' involvement in the programme is critical, most participants were opposed to teachers taking finger-prick blood samples from children. There was also a strong demand for the distribution of mosquito nets to augment IST.
Conclusion: School-based malaria control through IST was acceptable to most parents and other stakeholders, but careful consideration of the various roles of teachers, community health workers, and health workers, and the use of anti-malarial drugs with simpler regimens are critical to its future implementation.