Misdiagnosis of malaria could lead to the overuse of antimalarials resulting in the progression of underlying illness as well as increased risk of mortality. Misdiagnosis is an important consideration as a significant proportion of febrile illnesses in sub-Saharan Africa are attributable to conditions other than malaria. A health facility survey was carried out for a simple random sample of health facilities across 4 provinces of central Zambia in 2014. Twenty-nine facilities with at least 10 outpatients per day were included in the final sample. A modified service provision assessment questionnaire was used for data collection along with several other instruments. Primary outcomes included the quality and accuracy of diagnostic testing for malaria as well as health worker diagnostic and treatment practices. Laboratory technicians displayed 65.5% sensitivity and 86.0% specificity in performing malaria microscopy. Rapid diagnostic test results as reported by health workers were cross-checked by survey staff revealing 99.8% (95% CI: 98.0%-100.0%) concordance. Overall, 69.5% (177/286) (95% CI [58.8%-78.4%]) of patients were reported as febrile of which 37.0% (68/177) (95% CI [21.0%-56.6%]) had a malaria test requested or conducted by their health worker. Appropriate health worker adherence to recommended malaria case management practices (i.e. requesting/conducting malaria tests for febrile patients and providing appropriate antimalarial treatment for test positive cases or forgoing antimalarial treatment for test negative cases) was 30.5% (57/177) (95% CI [17.1%-48.4%]). Presence of fever (aOR = 10.6; 95% CI [3.6-31.2]) and self-reported headache (aOR = 2.2; 95% CI [1.0-4.9]) were significant factors in explaining health worker practices of requesting or performing malaria tests. Routine practice of IQA activities (aOR = 4.8; 95% CI [1.5-15.1]) and self-reported headache (aOR = 3.3; 95% CI [1.1-10.1])) were both significant predictors of antimalarial drug treatment or prescription among malaria untested patients. Prescriber adherence to malaria diagnostic test results in central Zambia is good, but the overall testing rate of febrile patients was low. Additionally, a number of patients observed during this survey were found to have received a clinical diagnosis of malaria without parasitological confirmation and many patients without test results received antimalarial treatment.
Keywords: Adherence; Antimalarial; Case management; Diagnostics; Malaria; Prescribing behavior.
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