Background: Community health workers (CHWs) were trained to identify children with malaria who could not take oral medication, treat them with rectal artesunate (RA) and refer them to the closest healthcare facility to complete management. However, many children with such symptoms did not seek CHWs' care. The hypothesis was that the cost of referral to a health facility was a deterrent. The goal of this study was to compare the out-of-pocket costs and time to seek treatment for children who sought CHW care (and received RA) versus those who did not.
Methods: Children with symptoms of severe malaria receiving RA at CHWs and children with comparable disease symptoms who did not go to a CHW were identified and their parents were interviewed. Household out-of-pocket costs per illness episode and speed of treatment were evaluated and compared between RA-treated children vs. non-RA treated children and by central nervous symptoms (CNS: repeated convulsions, altered consciousness or coma).
Results: Among children with CNS symptoms, costs of RA-treated children were similar to those of non-RA treated children ($5.83 vs. $4.65; p = 0.52), despite higher transport costs ($2.74 vs. $0.91; p < 0.0001). However, among children without CNS symptoms, costs of RA-treated children were higher than the costs of non-RA treated children with similar symptoms ($5.62 vs. $2.59; p = 0.0001), and the main driver of the cost difference was transport. After illness onset, CNS children reached CHWs for RA an average of 9.0 h vs. 16.1 h for non-RA treated children reaching first treatment [difference 7.1 h (95% CI - 1.8 to 16.1), p = 0.11]. For non-CNS patients the average time to CHW-delivered RA treatment was 12.2 h vs. 20.1 h for those reaching first treatment [difference 7.9 h (95% CI 0.2-15.6), p = 0.04]. More non-RA treated children developed CNS symptoms before arrival at the health centre but the difference was not statistically significant (6% vs. 4%; p = 0.58).
Conclusions: Community health worker-delivered RA does not affect the total out-of-pocket costs when used in children with CNS symptoms, but is associated with higher total out-of-pocket costs when used in children with less severe symptoms. RA-treated children sought treatment more quickly.
Keywords: CHW; Costs and cost analysis; Economics; Malaria; RDTs; Rectal artesunate; Time to treatment.