Referral patterns of community health workers diagnosing and treating malaria: Cluster-randomized trials in two areas of high- and low-malaria transmission in southwestern Uganda

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Malaria-endemic countries have implemented community health worker (CHW) programs to provide malaria diagnosis and treatment to populations living beyond the reach of health systems. However, there is limited evidence describing the referral practices of CHWs. We examined the impact of malaria rapid diagnostic tests (mRDTs) on CHW referral in two cluster-randomized trials, one conducted in a moderate-to-high malaria transmission setting and one in a low-transmission setting in Uganda, between January 2010 and July 2012. All CHWs were trained to prescribe artemisinin-based combination therapy (ACT) for malaria and recognize signs and symptoms for referral to health centers. CHWs in the control arm used a presumptive diagnosis for malaria based on clinical symptoms, whereas intervention arm CHWs used mRDTs. CHWs recorded ACT prescriptions, mRDT results, and referral inpatient registers. An intention-to-treat analysis was undertaken using multivariable logistic regression. Referral was more frequent in the intervention arm versus the control arm (moderate-to-high transmission, P < 0.001; low transmission, P < 0.001). Despite this increase, referral advice was not always given when ACTs or prereferral rectal artesunate were prescribed: 14% prescribed rectal artesunate in the moderate-to-high setting were not referred. In addition, CHWs considered factors alongside mRDTs when referring. Child visits during the weekends or the rainy season were less likely to be referred, whereas visits to CHWs more distant from health centers were more likely to be referred (low transmission only). CHWs using mRDTs and ACTs increased referral compared with CHWs using a presumptive diagnosis. To address these concerns, referral training should be emphasized in CHW programs as they are scaled-up.

Original languageEnglish
JournalAmerican Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene
Volume95
Issue number6
Pages (from-to)1398-1408
Number of pages11
ISSN0002-9637
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2016

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