The online version of this article (doi:10.1186/1475-2875-11-414) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.
No conflict of interest.
MKY: designed and managed the research project, performed data collection and analysis of 11 studies, reviewed the data and analysis of the 31 studies, drafted and finalized the article. JP: performed data collection and analysis of 31 studies. PS: contributed comments to the design and implementation of the research project and contributed to the article writing. All authors read and approved the final manuscript.
Despite great progress towards malaria control, the disease continues to be a major public health problem in many developing countries, especially for poor women and children in remote areas. Resistance to artemisinin combination therapy (ACT) emerged in East Asia. Its spread would threaten the only effective malaria treatment currently available. Improvement in availability of diagnosis as part of malaria control has highlighted the fact that many fevers are not due to malaria. These fevers also need to be promptly diagnosed and adequately treated in order to improve public health outcomes in developing countries.
This review looked for evidence for the most effective approach to deliver malaria treatment in developing countries, by public sector, formal and informal private sector, and community health workers (CHWs). The authors analysed 31 studies to assess providers based on six parameters: knowledge and practice of provider, diagnosis, referral practices, price of medicine, availability of ACT, and treatment coverage and impact on morbidity and mortality.
The public sector has made progress in prevention and treatment in many countries, but facilities are inaccessible to some communities, and the sector suffers shortages of health workers and stock-outs of medicines. Despite wide outreach, the private sector, especially informal facilities, presents public health risks. This is due to an inability to diagnose and treat non-malarial fevers, and an innate motive to over-prescribe malaria treatment. The need to pay for treatment is a major factor in deterring poor women and children from accessing the medicines they need. A system that depends on ability to pay risks a repeat of the chloroquine story, where an effective and cheap anti-malarial drug was rendered useless partly due to under-treatment. CHWs have proved to be effective agents in providing correct diagnosis and treatment of malaria and other common fevers, even in remote areas.
The evidence shows that there is no short-cut to investing in training and supervision of providers, or in treating malaria within a public health context rather than as a separate disease. The studies highlighted that all outlets face challenges in delivering their services, but that CHWs scored highly in almost all parameters. CHWs have proved to be effective agents in providing correct diagnosis and treatment of malaria and other common fevers, even in remote areas. Their role should be recognized and expanded.
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