• Abolishing user fees for children and pregnant women trebled uptake of malaria-related interventions in Kangaba, Mali.

      Ponsar, Frédérique; Van Herp, Michel; Zachariah, Rony; Gerard, Séco; Philips, Mit; Jouquet, Guillaume; Analysis and advocacy unit, Médecins sans Frontieres, Brussels Operational Centre, Brussels, Belgium. fredponsar@hotmail.com (2011-11)
      Malaria is the most common cause of morbidity and mortality in children under 5 in Mali. Health centres provide primary care, including malaria treatment, under a system of cost recovery. In 2005, Médecins sans Frontieres (MSF) started supporting health centres in Kangaba with the provision of rapid malaria diagnostic tests and artemisinin-based combination therapy. Initially MSF subsidized malaria tests and drugs to reduce the overall cost for patients. In a second phase, MSF abolished fees for all children under 5 irrespective of their illness and for pregnant women with fever. This second phase was associated with a trebling of both primary health care utilization and malaria treatment coverage for these groups. MSF's experience in Mali suggests that removing user fees for vulnerable groups significantly improves utilization and coverage of essential health services, including for malaria interventions. This effect is far more marked than simply subsidizing or providing malaria drugs and diagnostic tests free of charge. Following the free care strategy, utilization of services increased significantly and under-5 mortality was reduced. Fee removal also allowed for more efficient use of existing resources, reducing average cost per patient treated. These results are particularly relevant for the context of Mali and other countries with ambitious malaria treatment coverage objectives, in accordance with the United Nations Millennium Development Goals. This article questions the effectiveness of the current national policy, and the effectiveness of reducing the cost of drugs only (i.e. partial subsidies) or providing malaria tests and drugs free for under-5s, without abolishing other related fees. National and international budgets, in particular those that target health systems strengthening, could be used to complement existing subsidies and be directed towards effective abolition of user fees. This would contribute to increasing the impact of interventions on population health and, in turn, the effectiveness of aid.
    • Predictors of the Quality of Health Worker Treatment Practices for Uncomplicated Malaria at Government Health Facilities in Kenya.

      Zurovac, D; Rowe, A K; Ochola, S A; Noor, A M; Midia, B; English, M; Snow, R W; Médecins Sans Frontières-France, P.O. Box 39719, Nairobi, Kenya. dzurovac@wtnairobi.mimcom.net (Published by Oxford University Press, 2004-10)
      BACKGROUND: When replacing failing drugs for malaria with more effective drugs, an important step towards reducing the malaria burden is that health workers (HW) prescribe drugs according to evidence-based guidelines. Past studies have shown that HW commonly do not follow guidelines, yet few studies have explored with appropriate methods why such practices occur. METHODS: We analysed data from a survey of government health facilities in four Kenyan districts in which HW consultations were observed, caretakers and HW were interviewed, and health facility assessments were performed. The analysis was limited to children 2-59 months old with uncomplicated malaria. Treatment was defined as recommended (antimalarial recommended by national guidelines), a minor error (effective, but non-recommended antimalarial), or inappropriate (no effective antimalarial). RESULTS: We evaluated 1006 consultations performed by 135 HW at 81 facilities: 567 children received recommended treatment, 314 had minor errors, and 125 received inappropriate treatment (weighted percentages: 56.9%, 30.4%, and 12.7%). Multivariate logistic regression analysis revealed that programmatic interventions such as in-service malaria training, provision of guidelines and wall charts, and more frequent supervision were significantly associated with better treatment quality. However, neither in-service training nor possession of the guideline document showed an effect by itself. More qualified HW made more errors: both major and minor errors (but generally more minor errors) when second-line drugs were in stock, and more major errors when second-line drugs were not in stock. Child factors such as age and a main complaint of fever were also associated with treatment quality. CONCLUSIONS: Our results support the use of several programmatic strategies that can redress HW deficiencies in malaria treatment. Targeted cost-effectiveness trials would help refine these strategies and provide more precise guidance on affordable and effective ways to strengthen and maintain HW practices.