Improving recognition and management of children with complicated severe acute malnutrition at a tertiary referral hospital in Malawi: a quality improvement initiative

Paediatr Int Child Health. 2021 Aug;41(3):177-187. doi: 10.1080/20469047.2021.1967627. Epub 2021 Sep 8.


Background: Severe acute malnutrition (SAM) is common in low-income countries and is associated with high mortality in young children.

Objective: To improve recognition and management of SAM in a tertiary hospital in Malawi.

Methods: The impact of multifaceted quality improvement interventions in process measures pertaining to the identification and management of SAM was assessed. Interventions included focused training for clinical staff, reporting process measures to staff, and mobile phone-based group messaging for enhanced communication. This initiative focused on children aged 6-36 months admitted to Kamuzu Central Hospital in Malawi from September 2019 to March 2020. Before-after comparisons were made with baseline data from the year before, and process measures within this intervention period which included three plan-do-study-act (PDSA) cycles were compared.

Results: During the intervention period, 418 children had SAM and in-hospital mortality was 10.8%, which was not significantly different from the baseline period. Compared with the baseline period, there was significant improvement in the documentation of full anthropometrics on admission, blood glucose test within 24 hours of admission and HIV testing results by discharge. During the intervention period, amidst increasing patient census with each PDSA cycle, three process measures were maintained (documentation of full anthropometrics, determination of nutritional status and HIV testing results), and there was significant improvement in blood glucose documentation.

Conclusion: Significant improvement in key quality measures represents early progress towards the larger goal of improving patient outcomes, most notably mortality, in children admitted with SAM.

Keywords: ; Malawi; Severe acute malnutrition; quality improvement.

MeSH terms

  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Malawi
  • Nutritional Status
  • Quality Improvement*
  • Severe Acute Malnutrition* / diagnosis
  • Severe Acute Malnutrition* / therapy
  • Tertiary Care Centers