Background: Despite the benefits of malaria diagnosis, most presumed malaria episodes are never tested. A primary reason is the absence of diagnostic tests in retail establishments, where many patients seek care. Malaria rapid diagnostic tests (RDTs) in drug shops hold promise for guiding appropriate treatment. However, retail providers generally lack awareness of RDTs and training to administer them. Further, unsubsidized RDTs may be unaffordable to patients and unattractive to retailers. This paper reports results from an intervention study testing the feasibility of RDT distribution in Ugandan drug shops.
Methods and findings: 92 drug shops in 58 villages were offered subsidized RDTs for sale after completing training. Data on RDT purchases, storage, administration and disposal were collected, and samples were sent for quality testing. Household surveys were conducted to capture treatment outcomes. Estimated daily RDT sales varied substantially across shops, from zero to 8.46 RDTs per days. Overall compliance with storage, treatment and disposal guidelines was excellent. All RDTs (100%) collected from shops passed quality testing. The median price charged for RDTs was 1000USH ($0.40), corresponding to a 100% markup, and the same price as blood slides in local health clinics. RDTs affected treatment decisions. RDT-positive patients were 23 percentage points more likely to buy Artemisinin Combination Therapies (ACTs) (p = .005) and 33.1 percentage points more likely to buy other antimalarials (p<.001) than RDT-negative patients, and were 5.6 percentage points more likely to buy ACTs (p = .05) and 31.4 percentage points more likely to buy other antimalarials (p<.001) than those not tested at all.
Conclusions: Despite some heterogeneity, shops demonstrated a desire to stock RDTs and use them to guide treatment recommendations. Most shops stored, administered and disposed of RDTs properly and charged mark-ups similar to those charged on common medicines. Results from this study suggest that distributing RDTs through the retail sector is feasible and can reduce inappropriate treatment for suspected malaria.