Aim: To accelerate progress in reducing child mortality, many countries in sub-Saharan Africa have adopted and scaled-up integrated community case management (iCCM) programs targeting the three major infectious killers of children under-five. The programs train lay community health workers to assess, classify and treat uncomplicated cases of pneumonia with antibiotics, malaria with antimalarial drugs and diarrhea with Oral Rehydration Salts (ORS) and zinc. Although management of these conditions with the respective appropriate drugs has proven efficacious in randomized trials, the effectiveness of large iCCM scale-up programs in reducing child mortality is yet to be demonstrated. This paper reviews recent experience in documenting and attributing changes in under-five mortality to the specific interventions of a variety of iCCM programs.
Methods: Eight recent studies have been identified and assessed in terms of design, mortality measurement and results. Impact of the iCCM program on mortality among children age 2-59 months was assessed through a difference in differences approach using random effect Poisson regression.
Results: Designs used by these studies include cluster randomized trials, randomized stepped-wedge and quasi-experimental trials. Child mortality is measured through demographic surveillance or household survey with full birth history conducted at the end of program implementation. Six of the eight studies showed a higher decline in mortality among children 2-59 months in program areas compared to comparison areas, although this acceleration was statistically significant in only one study with a decline of 76% larger in intervention than in comparison areas.
Conclusion: Studies that evaluate large scale iCCM programs and include assessment of mortality impact must ensure an appropriate design. This includes required sample sizes and sufficient number of program and comparison districts that allow adequate inference and attribution of impact. In addition, large-scale program utilization, and a significant increase in coverage of care seeking and treatment of targeted childhood illnesses are preconditions to measurable mortality impact. Those issues need to be addressed before large investments in assessing changes in child mortality is undertaken, or the results of mortality impact evaluation will most likely be inconclusive.