"...still waiting for chloroquine": the challenge of communicating changes in first-line treatment policy for uncomplicated malaria in a remote Kenyan district

Okungu V, Gilson L
Malar J. 2014;13

Permenent descriptor

BACKGROUND: Widespread parasite resistance to first-line treatment for uncomplicated malaria leads to introduction of new drug interventions. Introducing such interventions is complex and sensitive because of stakeholder interests and public resistance. To enhance take up of such interventions, health policy communication strategies need to deliver accurate and accessible information to empower communities with necessary information and address problems of cultural acceptance of new interventions. OBJECTIVES: To explore community understanding of policy changes in first-line treatment for uncomplicated malaria in Kenya; to evaluate the potential role of policy communication in influencing responses to changes in first-line treatment policy. METHODS: Data collection involved qualitative strategies in a remote district in the Kenyan Coast: in-depth interviews (n = 29), focus group discussions (n = 14), informal conversations (n = 11) and patient narratives (n = 8). Constant comparative method was used in the analysis. Being malaria-prone and remotely located, the district offered an ideal area to investigate whether or not and how policy communication about a matter as critical as change of treatment policy reaches vulnerable populations. RESULTS: Three years after initial implementation (2009), there was limited knowledge or understanding regarding change of first-line treatment from sulphadoxine-pyrimethamine (SP) to artemether-lumefantrine (AL) for treatment of uncomplicated malaria in the study district. The print and electronic media used to create awareness about the drug change appeared to have had little impact. Although respondents were aware of the existence of AL, the drug was known neither by name nor as the official first-line treatment. Depending on individuals or groups, AL was largely viewed negatively. The weaknesses in communication strategy surrounding the change to AL included poor choice of communication tools, confusing advertisements of other drugs and conflicts between patients and providers. CONCLUSION: Effective health policy communication is important for the uptake of new drug interventions and adherence to treatment regimens. Besides, prompt access to effective treatment may not be achieved if beneficiaries are not adequately informed about treatment policy changes. Future changes in treatment policy should ensure that the communication strategy is designed to pass sustained, accurate and effective messages that account for local contexts.