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BACKGROUND: One pillar to monitoring progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals is the investment in high quality data to strengthen the scientific basis for decision-making. At present, nationally-representative surveys are the main source of data for establishing a scientific evidence base, monitoring, and evaluation of health metrics. However, little is known about the optimal precisions of various population-level health and development indicators that remains unquantified in nationally-representative household surveys. Here, a retrospective analysis of the precision of prevalence from these surveys was conducted. METHODS: Using malaria indicators, data were assembled in nine sub-Saharan African countries with at least two nationally-representative surveys. A Bayesian statistical model was used to estimate between- and within-cluster variability for fever and malaria prevalence, and insecticide-treated bed nets (ITNs) use in children under the age of 5 years. The intra-class correlation coefficient was estimated along with the optimal sample size for each indicator with associated uncertainty. FINDINGS: Results suggest that the estimated sample sizes for the current nationally-representative surveys increases with declining malaria prevalence. Comparison between the actual sample size and the modelled estimate showed a requirement to increase the sample size for parasite prevalence by up to 77.7% (95% Bayesian credible intervals 74.7-79.4) for the 2015 Kenya MIS (estimated sample size of children 0-4 years 7218 [7099-7288]), and 54.1% [50.1-56.5] for the 2014-2015 Rwanda DHS (12,220 [11,950-12,410]). CONCLUSION: This study highlights the importance of defining indicator-relevant sample sizes to achieve the required precision in the current national surveys. While expanding the current surveys would need additional investment, the study highlights the need for improved approaches to cost effective sampling.

Original publication




Journal article


Malar J

Publication Date





Indicators, Intra-class correlation, Malaria, Precision, Africa South of the Sahara, Bayes Theorem, Developing Countries, Humans, Malaria, Prevalence, Reproducibility of Results, Retrospective Studies, Surveys and Questionnaires