Optimal Population-Level Infection Detection Strategies for Malaria Control and Elimination in a Spatial Model of Malaria Transmission

PLoS Comput Biol. 2016 Jan 14;12(1):e1004707. doi: 10.1371/journal.pcbi.1004707. eCollection 2016 Jan.


Mass campaigns with antimalarial drugs are potentially a powerful tool for local elimination of malaria, yet current diagnostic technologies are insufficiently sensitive to identify all individuals who harbor infections. At the same time, overtreatment of uninfected individuals increases the risk of accelerating emergence of drug resistance and losing community acceptance. Local heterogeneity in transmission intensity may allow campaign strategies that respond to index cases to successfully target subpatent infections while simultaneously limiting overtreatment. While selective targeting of hotspots of transmission has been proposed as a strategy for malaria control, such targeting has not been tested in the context of malaria elimination. Using household locations, demographics, and prevalence data from a survey of four health facility catchment areas in southern Zambia and an agent-based model of malaria transmission and immunity acquisition, a transmission intensity was fit to each household based on neighborhood age-dependent malaria prevalence. A set of individual infection trajectories was constructed for every household in each catchment area, accounting for heterogeneous exposure and immunity. Various campaign strategies-mass drug administration, mass screen and treat, focal mass drug administration, snowball reactive case detection, pooled sampling, and a hypothetical serological diagnostic-were simulated and evaluated for performance at finding infections, minimizing overtreatment, reducing clinical case counts, and interrupting transmission. For malaria control, presumptive treatment leads to substantial overtreatment without additional morbidity reduction under all but the highest transmission conditions. Compared with untargeted approaches, selective targeting of hotspots with drug campaigns is an ineffective tool for elimination due to limited sensitivity of available field diagnostics. Serological diagnosis is potentially an effective tool for malaria elimination but requires higher coverage to achieve similar results to mass distribution of presumptive treatment.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Antimalarials / therapeutic use
  • Computational Biology
  • Disease Eradication
  • Humans
  • Malaria / drug therapy
  • Malaria / epidemiology
  • Malaria / prevention & control*
  • Malaria / transmission*
  • Population Surveillance / methods


  • Antimalarials

Grants and funding

JG, CAB, PAE, and EAW are supported by Bill and Melinda Gates through the Global Good Fund. JMM and PATH MACEPA are supported by a grant (OPP 1089412) from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.