Malaria epidemiology and economics: the effect of delayed immune acquisition on the cost-effectiveness of insecticide-treated bednets.
Guyatt HL., Snow RW., Evans DB.
An understanding of the epidemiology of a disease is central in evaluating the health impact and cost-effectiveness of control interventions. The epidemiology of life-threatening malaria is receiving renewed interest, with concerns that the implementation of preventive measures such as insecticide-treated bednets (ITNs) while protecting young children might in fact increase the risks of mortality and morbidity in older ages by delaying the acquisition of functional immunity. This paper aims to illustrate how a combined approach of epidemiology and economics can be used to (i) explore the long-term impact of changes in epidemiological profiles, and (ii) identify those variables that are critical in determining whether an intervention will be an efficient use of resources. The key parameters for determining effectiveness are the protective efficacy of ITNs (reduction in all-cause mortality), the malaria attributable mortality and the increased malaria-specific mortality risk due to delays in the acquisition of functional immunity. In particular, the analysis demonstrates that delayed immune acquisition is not a problem per se, but that the critical issue is whether it occurs immediately following the implementation of an ITN programme or whether it builds up slowly over time. In the 'worst case' scenario where ITNs immediately increase malaria-specific mortality due to reduced immunity, the intervention might actually cost lives. In other words, it might be better to not use ITNs. On the other hand, if reduced immunity takes two years to develop, ITNs would still fall into the category of excellent value for money compared to other health interventions, saving a year of life (YLL) at a cost of between US$25-30. These types of calculations are important in identifying the parameters which field researchers should be seeking to measure to address the important question of the net impact of delaying the acquisition of immunity through preventive control measures.