Background: Detection of malaria parasitaemia in samples that are negative by rapid diagnostic tests (RDTs) requires resource-intensive molecular tools. While pooled testing using a two-step strategy provides a cost-saving alternative to the gold standard of individual sample testing, statistical adjustments are needed to improve accuracy of prevalence estimates for a single step pooled testing strategy.
Methods: A random sample of 4670 malaria RDT negative dried blood spot samples were selected from a mass testing and treatment trial in Asembo, Gem, and Karemo, western Kenya. Samples were tested for malaria individually and in pools of five, 934 pools, by one-step quantitative polymerase chain reaction (qPCR). Maximum likelihood approaches were used to estimate subpatent parasitaemia (RDT-negative, qPCR-positive) prevalence by pooling, assuming poolwise sensitivity and specificity was either 100% (strategy A) or imperfect (strategy B). To improve and illustrate the practicality of this estimation approach, a validation study was constructed from pools allocated at random into main (734 pools) and validation (200 pools) subsets. Prevalence was estimated using strategies A and B and an inverse-variance weighted estimator and estimates were weighted to account for differential sampling rates by area.
Results: The prevalence of subpatent parasitaemia was 14.5% (95% CI 13.6-15.3%) by individual qPCR, 9.5% (95% CI (8.5-10.5%) by strategy A, and 13.9% (95% CI 12.6-15.2%) by strategy B. In the validation study, the prevalence by individual qPCR was 13.5% (95% CI 12.4-14.7%) in the main subset, 8.9% (95% CI 7.9-9.9%) by strategy A, 11.4% (95% CI 9.9-12.9%) by strategy B, and 12.8% (95% CI 11.2-14.3%) using inverse-variance weighted estimator from poolwise validation. Pooling, including a 20% validation subset, reduced costs by 52% compared to individual testing.
Conclusions: Compared to individual testing, a one-step pooled testing strategy with an internal validation subset can provide accurate prevalence estimates of PCR-positivity among RDT-negatives at a lower cost.
Keywords: Group testing; Pooled testing; Subpatent malaria parasitemia.
© 2022. The Author(s).