Performance of passive case detection for malaria surveillance: results from nine countries in Mesoamerica and the Dominican Republic

Published April 30, 2021, in Malaria Journal (opens in a new window)


In malaria elimination settings, available metrics for malaria surveillance have been insufficient to measure the performance of passive case detection adequately. An indicator for malaria suspected cases with malaria test (MSCT) is proposed to measure the rate of testing on persons presenting to health facilities who satisfy the definition of a suspected malaria case. This metric does not rely on prior knowledge of fever prevalence, seasonality, or external denominators, and can be used to compare detection rates in suspected cases within and between countries, including across settings with different levels of transmission.


To compute the MSCT, an operational definition for suspected malaria cases was established, including clinical and epidemiological criteria. In general, suspected cases included: (1) persons with fever detected in areas with active malaria transmission; (2) persons with fever identified in areas with no active transmission and travel history to, or residence in areas with active transmission (either national or international); and (3) persons presenting with fever, chills and sweating from any area. Data was collected from 9 countries: Belize, Colombia (in areas with active transmission), Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Panama (September–March 2020). A sample of eligible medical records for 2018 was selected from a sample of health facilities in each country. An algorithm was constructed to assess if a malaria test was ordered or performed for cases that met the suspected case definition.


A sample of 5873 suspected malaria cases was obtained from 239 health facilities. Except for Nicaragua and Colombia, malaria tests were requested in less than 10% of all cases. More cases were tested in areas with active transmission than areas without cases. Travel history was not systematically recorded in any country.


A statistically comparable, replicable, and standardized metric was proposed to measure suspected malaria cases with a test (microscopy or rapid diagnostic test) that enables assessing the performance of passive case detection. Cross-country findings have important implications for malaria and infectious disease surveillance, which should be promptly addressed as countries progress towards malaria elimination. Local and easy-to-implement tools could be implemented to assess and improve passive case detection.

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Rios-Zertuche D, Carter KH, Panhorst Harris K. Performance of passive case detection for malaria surveillance: results from nine countries in Mesoamerica and the Dominican Republic. Malaria Journal. 30 April 2021. doi: 10.1186/s12936-021-03645-x.


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