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BACKGROUND: The World Health Organization guidelines have recommended that all cases of suspected malaria should receive a confirmatory test with microscopy or a malaria rapid diagnostic test (RDT), however evidence from sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) illustrates that only one-third of children under five with a recent fever received a test. The aim of this study was to evaluate availability, price and market share of microscopy and RDT from 2009/11 to 2014/15 in 8 SSA countries, to better understand barriers to improving access to malaria confirmatory testing in the public and private health sectors.
RESULTS: Repeated national cross-sectional quantitative surveys were conducted among a sample of outlets stocking anti-malarial medicines and/or diagnostics. In total, 169,655 outlets were screened. Availability of malaria blood testing among all screened public health facilities increased significantly between the first survey wave in 2009/11 and the most recent in 2014/15 in Benin (36.2, 85.4%, p < 0.001), Kenya (53.8, 93.0%, p < 0.001), mainland Tanzania (46.9, 89.9%, p < 0.001), Nigeria (28.5, 86.2%, p < 0.001), Katanga, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) (76.0, 88.2%, p < 0.05), and Uganda (38.9, 95.6%, p < 0.001). These findings were attributed to an increase in availability of RDTs. Diagnostic availability remained high in Kinshasa (the DRC) (87.6, 97.6%) and Zambia (87.9, 91.6%). Testing availability in public health facilities significantly decreased in Madagascar (88.1, 73.1%, p < 0.01). In the most recent survey round, the majority of malaria testing was performed in the public sector in Zambia (90.9%), Benin (90.3%), Madagascar (84.5%), Katanga (74.3%), mainland Tanzania (73.5%), Uganda (71.8%), Nigeria (68.4%), Kenya (53.2%) and Kinshasa (51.9%). In the anti-malarial stocking private sector, significant increases in availability of diagnostic tests among private for-profit facilities were observed between the first and final survey rounds in Kinshasa (82.1, 94.0%, p < 0.05), Nigeria (37.0, 66.0%, p < 0.05), Kenya (52.8, 74.3%, p < 0.001), mainland Tanzania (66.8, 93.5%, p < 0.01), Uganda (47.1, 70.1%, p < 0.001), and Madagascar (14.5, 45.0%, p < 0.01). Blood testing availability remained low over time among anti-malarial stocking private health facilities in Benin (33.1, 20.7%), and high over time in Zambia (94.4, 87.5%), with evidence of falls in availability in Katanga (72.7, 55.6%, p < 0.05). Availability among anti-malarial stocking pharmacies and drug stores-which are the most common source of anti-malarial medicines-was rare in all settings, and highest in Uganda in 2015 (21.5%). Median private sector price of RDT for a child was equal to the price of pre-packaged quality-assured artemisinin-based combination therapy (QAACT) treatment for a two-year old child in some countries, and 1.5-2.5 times higher in others. Median private sector QAACT price for an adult varied from having parity with an RDT for an adult to being up to 2 times more expensive. The exception was in both Kinshasa and Katanga, where the median price of QAACT was less expensive than RDTs.
CONCLUSIONS: Significant strides have been made in the availability of testing, mainly through the widespread distribution of RDT, and especially in public health facilities. Significant barriers to universal coverage of diagnostic testing can be attributed to very low availability in the private sector, particularly among pharmacies and drug stores, which are responsible for most anti-malarial distribution. Where tests are available, price may serve as a barrier to uptake, particularly for young children. Several initiatives that have introduced RDT into the private sector can be modified and expanded as a means to close this gap in malaria testing availability and promote universal diagnosis.
O'Connell, Kathryn A.; Vasireddy, Vamsi; Littrell, Megan; Rusk, Andria; ACTwatch Group; Hanson, Kara; and Goodman, Catherine, "Testing times: trends in availability, price, and market share of malaria diagnostics in the public and private healthcare sector across eight sub-Saharan African countries from 2009 to 2015." (2017). Collected Faculty and Staff Scholarship. 339.
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Sample ACTwatch questionnaire
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Percentage of anti-malarial-stocking community health workers and private sector general retailers and itinerant drug vendors with malaria RDT available on the day of the survey over time.
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Median private sector price for malaria microscopy, RDT, and pre-packaged quality-assured ACT treatment, across outlet types