Background: The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) has the highest number of severe malaria cases in the world. In early 2012, the National Malaria Control Programme (NMCP) changed the policy for treating severe malaria in children and adults from injectable quinine to injectable artesunate. To inform the scaling up of injectable artesunate nationwide, operational research is needed to identify constraints and challenges in the DRC's specific setting.
Methods: The implementation of injectable quinine treatment in 350 patients aged 2 months or older in eight health facilities from October 2012 to January 2013 and injectable artesunate in 399 patients in the same facilities from April to June 2013 was compared. Since this was an implementation study, concurrent randomized controls were not possible. Four key components were evaluated during each phase: 1) clinical assessment, 2) time and motion, 3) feasibility and acceptability, and 4) financial cost.
Results: The time to discharge was lower in the artesunate (median=2, 90% central range 1-9) compared to the quinine group (3 (1-9) days; p<0.001). Similarly, the interval between admission and the start of intravenous (IV) treatment (2 (0-15) compared to 3 (0-20) hours; p<0.001) and parasite clearance time (23 (11-49) compared to 24 (10-82) hours; p<0.001) were lower in the artesunate group. The overall staff pre-administration time (13 (6-38) compared to 20 (7-50) minutes; p<0.001) and the personnel time spent on patient management (9 (1-24) compared to 12 (3-52) minutes; p<0.001) were lower in the artesunate group. In hospitals and health centres, the mean (standard deviation, SD) total cost per patient treated for severe malaria with injectable artesunate was USD 51.94 (16.20) and 19.51 (9.58); and USD 60.35 (17.73) and 20.36 (6.80) with injectable quinine.
Conclusions: This study demonstrates that injectable artesunate in the DRC is easier to use and it costs less than injectable quinine. These findings provide the basis for practical recommendations for rapid national deployment of injectable artesunate in the DRC.
Trial registration: ClinicalTrials.gov NCT01828333.