National malaria control programmes and their partners must document progress associated with investments in malaria control. While documentation has been achieved through population-based surveys for most interventions, measuring changes in malaria case management has been challenging because the increasing use of diagnostic tests reduces the denominator of febrile children who should receive anti-malarial treatment. Thus the widely used indicator, "proportion of children under five with fever in the last two weeks who received anti-malarial treatment according to national policy within 24 hours from onset of fever" is no longer relevant.
An alternative sequence of indicators using a systems effectiveness approach was examined using data from nationally representative surveys in Zambia: the 2012 population-based Malaria Indictor Survey (MIS) and the 2011 Health Facility Survey (HFS). The MIS measured fever treatment-seeking behaviour among 972 children under five years (CU5) and 1,848 people age five years and above. The HFS assessed management of 435 CU5 and 429 people age five and above with fever/history of fever seeking care at 149 health facilities. Consultation observation and exit interviews measured use of diagnostic tests, artemisinin combination therapy (ACT) prescription, and patient comprehension of prescribed regimens.
Systems effectiveness for malaria case management among CU5 was estimated as follows: [100% ACT efficacy] x [55% fever treatment-seeking from an appropriate provider (MIS)] x [71% malaria blood testing (HFS)] x [86% ACT prescription for positive cases (HFS)] x [73% patient comprehension of prescribed ACT drug regimens (HFS)] = 25%. Systems effectiveness for malaria case management among people age five and above was estimated at 15%.
Tracking progress in malaria case management coverage can no longer rely solely on population-based surveys; the way forward likely entails household surveys to track trends in fever treatment-seeking behaviour, and facility/provider data to track appropriate management of febrile patients. Applying health facility and population-based data to the systems effectiveness framework provides a cogent and feasible approach to documenting malaria case management coverage and identifying gaps to direct program action. In Zambia, this approach identified treatment-seeking behaviour as the largest contributor to reduction in systems effectiveness for malaria case management.