Malaria Treatment Guidelines – are health workers aware?

Malaria Journal published a few days ago an article comparing the costs of treating children and adults for malaria at a Nigerian hospital based on clinical diagnosis versus treating only when microscopy was positive for parasites. Normally we would pass abstracts from such articles on to members of our listserve (see link at right), but comments from a colleague in Nigeria gave pause.

He rightly pointed out that normally any research that helps us consider the factors involved in proper malaria diagnosis and treatment is welcome as we move toward universal coverage and elimination. His concern was that the researchers, who conducted their study in 2009, had not followed national malaria treatment policy and guidelines, which had been promulgated in 2005 based on the alarming growth of resistance of malaria parasites to the common, though cheap, antimalarials such as chloroquine and sulphadoxine-pyrimethamine (SP).

First the cost findings from the team at Bowen University Teaching Hospital (aka Baptist Medical Center, Ogbomosho) –

  • For children, testing all but treating only Giemsa positives was $6.04/child
  • Empiric treatment of all children clinically diagnosed was $4.49/child
  • For adults, treating only Giemsa positives was $4.84/adult for treatment option one and $4.97/adult for option two
  • Empiric treatment for adults was $4.14/adult for option one and $4.63/adult for option 2

In spite of the cost findings, the researchers did point out the drawbacks of empirical or clinical diagnosis in terms of accuracy and potentials for promoting drug resistance and called for scale up of rapid diagnostic tests (RDTs) to address these concerns.

The treatment regimens in this study included …

  • Pediatric patients: artesunate (6-9 tablets of 3 mg/kg on day one and 1.5 mg/kg for the next four days) plus amodiaquine (10 mg/kg on days one to two and 5 mg/kg on day three in suspension)
  • Adult option one: four and one-half 50 mg artesunate tablets on day one and nine additional artesunate tablets over the next four days, plus three 500 mg sulphadoxine/25 mg pyrimethamine tablets
  • Adult option two: four and one-half 50 mg artesunate tablets on day one and nine additional artesunate tablets for the next four days plus nine 200 mg tablets of amodiaquine at a dose of 10 mg/kg on day one to two and 5 mg/kg on day three

National treatment guidelines specifically stress use of artemisinin-based combination therapy (ACT) for basic, uncomplicated malaria treatment.These guidelines are undergoing further revision with a stronger emphasis on ACT use based on RDTs and microscopy where available and recognition of the dangers of monotherapy drugs like chloroquine, SP and even artesunate itself.

The researchers from Ogbomosho are rightly concerned about cost issues, and being a private/NGO university and hospital, they do witness the direct effects of medication costs on patients that health staff in the public sector may not see.

This is still no excuse for not following national treatment guidelines when these drugs were available for their procurement in 2009. Now with the advent of the Affordable Medicine Facility malaria (AMFm) in Nigeria all health facilities, especially NGO hospitals like Ogbomosho, have no reason not to buy and dispense the correct medicines.

To re-emphasize this point, a press release from November 2010 clearly states –

“The Federal Government has directed all medical doctors and other health officials in the country to henceforth start using Artemisinin-based Combined Therapy (ACT) for the treatment of malaria disease in the country. Minister of Health, Prof. Onyebuchi Chukwu, gave the directive yesterday in Abuja during the ministerial press briefing on Affordable Medicines Facility (AMF) for malaria programme. According to the minister, the spread of malaria had become so critical that everyone in the country was now involved.”

We hope health workers in all sectors get the word! Hopefully national authorities will step up their efforts to disseminate guidelines to all front line health workers whether in public, private or NGO sectors.

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