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Open Access Research article

Pathways to malaria persistence in remote central Vietnam: a mixed-method study of health care and the community

Martha Morrow1*, Quy A Nguyen2, Sonia Caruana3, Beverley A Biggs3, Nhan H Doan2 and Tien T Nong2

Author Affiliations

1 Nossal Institute for Global Health, University of Melbourne, Melbourne, Vic 3010, Australia

2 National Institute of Malariology, Parasitology and Entomology, BC 10200 Tu Liem, Hanoi, Vietnam

3 Department of Medicine, University of Melbourne, Melbourne, Vic 3010, Australia

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BMC Public Health 2009, 9:85  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-9-85

Published: 23 March 2009

Abstract

Background

There is increasing interest in underlying socio-cultural, economic, environmental and health-system influences on the persistence of malaria. Vietnam is a Mekong regional 'success story' after dramatic declines in malaria incidence following introduction of a national control program providing free bed-nets, diagnosis and treatment. Malaria has largely retreated to pockets near international borders in central Vietnam, where it remains a burden particularly among impoverished ethnic minorities. In these areas commune and village health workers are lynchpins of the program. This study in the central province of Quang Tri aimed to contribute to more effective malaria control in Vietnam by documenting the non-biological pathways to malaria persistence in two districts.

Methods

Multiple and mixed (qualitative and quantitative) methods were used. The formative stage comprised community meetings, observation of bed-net use, and focus group discussions and semi-structured interviews with health managers, providers and community. Formative results were used to guide development of tools for the assessment stage, which included a provider quiz, structured surveys with 160 community members and 16 village health workers, and quality check of microscopy facilities and health records at district and commune levels. Descriptive statistics and chi-square analysis were used for quantitative data.

Results

The study's key findings were the inadequacy of bed-nets (only 45% of households were fully covered) and sub-optimal diagnosis and treatment at local levels. Bed-net insufficiencies were exacerbated by customary sleeping patterns and population mobility. While care at district level seemed good, about a third of patients reportedly self-discharged early and many were lost to follow-up. Commune and village data suggested that approximately half of febrile patients were treated presumptively, and 10 village health workers did not carry artesunate to treat the potentially deadly and common P. falciparum malaria. Some staff lacked diagnostic skills, time for duties, and quality microscopy equipment. A few gaps were found in community knowledge and reported behaviours.

Conclusion

Malaria control cannot be achieved through community education alone in this region. Whilst appropriate awareness-raising is needed, it is most urgent to address weaknesses at systems level, including bed-net distribution, health provider staffing and skills, as well as equipment and supplies.