The Global Technical Strategy 2016-2030 of the World Health Organization (WHO) has the ambitious goal of malaria being eliminated from at least 35 countries by 2030. However, in areas with once-stable malaria transmission, the reservoir of human infection may be intermittently symptomatic or fully silent yet still lead to transmission, posing a serious challenge to elimination. Mass drug administration (MDA), defined as the provision of a therapeutic dose of an effective anti-malarial drug to the entire target population, irrespective of infection status or symptoms, is one strategy to combat the silent human reservoir of infection. MDA is currently recommended by the WHO as a potential strategy for the elimination of Plasmodium falciparum malaria in areas approaching interruption of transmission, given the prerequisites of good access to case management, effective vector control and surveillance, and limited potential for reintroduction. Recent community randomized controlled trials of MDA with dihydroartemisinin-piperaquine, implemented as part of a comprehensive package of interventions, have shown this strategy to be safe and effective in significantly lowering the malaria burden in pre-elimination settings. Here it is argued that effectively implemented MDA should be kept in the elimination toolbox as a potential strategy for P. falciparum elimination in a variety of settings, including islands, appropriate low transmission settings, and in epidemics and complex emergencies. Effectively implemented MDA using an ACT has been shown to be safe, unrelated to the emergence of drug resistance, and may play an important role in sufficiently lowering the malaria burden to allow malaria transmission foci to be more easily identified, and to allow elimination programmes to more feasibly implement case-based surveillance and follow-up activities. To be most impactful and guard against drug resistance, MDA should use an ACT, achieve high programmatic coverage and adherence, be implemented when transmission is lowest in areas of limited risk of immediate parasite reintroduction, and must always be implemented only once good access to case management, high coverage of effective vector control, and strong surveillance have been achieved. If these considerations are taken into account, MDA should prove to be a valuable tool for the malaria elimination toolbox.
Keywords: Elimination; Malaria; Mass drug administration (MDA).