Between 1995 and 2000, KwaZuluNatal province, South Africa, experienced a marked increase in Plasmodium falciparum malaria, fuelled by pyrethroid and sulfadoxine-pyrimethamine resistance. In response, vector control was strengthened and artemether-lumefantrine (AL) was deployed in the first Ministry of Health artemisinin-based combination treatment policy in Africa. In South Africa, effective vector and parasite control had historically ensured low-intensity malaria transmission. Malaria is diagnosed definitively and treatment is provided free of charge in reasonably accessible public-sector health-care facilities.
Methods and Findings
We reviewed four years of malaria morbidity and mortality data at four sentinel health-care facilities within KwaZuluNatal''s malaria-endemic area. In the year following improved vector control and implementation of AL treatment, malaria-related admissions and deaths both declined by 89, and outpatient visits decreased by 85 at the sentinel facilities. By 2003, malaria-related outpatient cases and admissions had fallen by 99, and malaria-related deaths had decreased by 97. There was a concomitant marked and sustained decline in notified malaria throughout the province. No serious adverse events were associated causally with AL treatment in an active sentinel pharmacovigilance survey. In a prospective study with 42 d follow up, AL cured 97/98 (99) and prevented gametocyte developing in all patients. Consistent with the findings of focus group discussions, a household survey found self-reported adherence to the six-dose AL regimen was 96.
Together with concurrent strengthening of vector control measures, the antimalarial treatment policy change to AL in KwaZuluNatal contributed to a marked and sustained decrease in malaria cases, admissions, and deaths, by greatly improving clinical and parasitological cure rates and reducing gametocyte carriage.