Open Access Research article

Randomised primary health center based interventions to improve the diagnosis and treatment of undifferentiated fever and dengue in Vietnam

Hoang L Phuong12, Tran TT Nga13, Phan T Giao2, Le Q Hung2, Tran Q Binh2, Nguyen V Nam4, Nico Nagelkerke5 and Peter J de Vries1*

Author Affiliations

1 Division of Infectious Diseases, Tropical Medicine and AIDS, Academic Medical Center, Amsterdam, the Netherlands

2 Department of Tropical Diseases, Cho Ray Hospital, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

3 Department of Microbiology, Cho Ray Hospital, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

4 Binh Thuan Medical College, Phan Thiet, Binh Thuan, Vietnam

5 Department of Community Medicine, United Arab Emirates University, Al Ain, United Arab Emirates

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BMC Health Services Research 2010, 10:275  doi:10.1186/1472-6963-10-275

Published: 21 September 2010



Fever is a common reason for attending primary health facilities in Vietnam. Response of health care providers to patients with fever commonly consists of making a presumptive diagnosis and proposing corresponding treatment. In Vietnam, where malaria was brought under control, viral infections, notably dengue, are the main causes of undifferentiated fever but they are often misdiagnosed and inappropriately treated with antibiotics.

This study investigate if educating primary health center (PHC) staff or introducing rapid diagnostic tests (RDTs) improve diagnostic resolution and accuracy for acute undifferentiated fever (AUF) and reduce prescription of antibiotics and costs for patients.


In a PHC randomized intervention study in southern Vietnam, the presumptive diagnoses for AUF patients were recorded and confirmed by serology on paired (acute and convalescence) sera. After one year, PHCs were randomized to four intervention arms: training on infectious diseases (A), the provision of RDTs (B), the combination (AB) and control (C). The intervention lasted from 2002 until 2006.


The frequency of the non-etiologic diagnosis "undifferentiated fever" decreased in group AB, and - with some delay- also in group B. The diagnosis "dengue" increased in group AB, but only temporarily, although dengue was the most common cause of fever. A correct diagnosis for dengue initially increased in groups AB and B but only for AB this was sustained. Antibiotics prescriptions increased in group C. During intervention it initially declined in AB with a tendency to increase afterwards; in B it gradually declined. There was a substantial increase of patients' costs in B.


The introduction of RDTs for infectious diseases such as dengue, through free market principles, does improve the quality of the diagnosis and decreases the prescription of antibiotics at the PHC level. However, the effect is more sustainable in combination with training; without it RDTs lead to an excess of costs.