Cluster randomised trial comparing targeted versus generalised vector control in South Africa

Cluster randomised trial comparing targeted versus generalised vector control in South Africa


Countries that have reduced malaria incidence to low levels face major challenges when trying to eliminate the disease altogether. In trying to reduce transmission further, considerable resources are required for disease prevention through mosquito vector control, for example by indoor residual spraying (IRS) of all houses.

Such mass prevention efforts can lead to reduced compliance in communities and control programs who no longer perceive a risk of malaria, and waning political and donor commitment when the disease burden is low, thereby endangering the sustainability of the elimination effort. Evidence based methods of scaling back blanket IRS have to be developed which ensure that populations are not put at risk when IRS is no longer routinely applied.

In this study, targeted focal IRS in response to new cases being reported will be compared with generalised annual IRS of all houses, to determine whether it is as effective, less costly, more acceptable, results in higher coverage and compliance and increased malaria prevention seeking behaviour. A pre-condition for this approach, is a reliable rapid malaria case surveillance system, based on definitive diagnosis of suspected cases.

This trial will be carried out in South Africa, which has practised blanket IRS for many decades, where case incidence in many districts is now low enough to be considered pre-elimination, and where a high quality case reporting system is well established. Spray localities will be grouped into clusters of 5,000 to 10,000 persons which will be randomly allocated to either targeted IRS, or to blanket routine IRS. Targeted neighbourhood IRS will be triggered in response to two or more local cases occurring within 4 weeks of each other and residing within 0.5km from one another.

Spraying and community awareness activities will be carried out in a radius of 0.5km from each case house. It is postulated that focal spraying will lead to higher quality of IRS application because it can be better supervised and will be seen as protection against real risk of infection due to the occurrence of recent local cases; that it will be more acceptable to householders and hence lead to better co-operation with access to premises and hence higher spray coverage; and that householders will exercise better compliance with not repainting, washing or re-plastering of walls after spraying.

As a result we expect that incidence of cases will be no higher in targeted IRS areas than in those receiving mass IRS and that targeted spraying will be more economical and hence more sustainable. The study will measure malaria case incidence, householder acceptability and compliance, spray coverage, and economic costs of the interventions as outcome indicators.

There is some evidence from other countries that in very low transmission settings, incident malaria cases occur in hotspots that are stable over time. If such hotspots can be accurately located, they can be singled out for focal interventions such as targeted IRS at the beginning of each season.

To investigate whether such hotspots of local transmission exist in South Africa, it is proposed that filter paper blood spots are collected in communities where targeted IRS is carried out, to be tested for the presence of antibody sero-positivity to malarial antigens. The sero-prevalence of 'outbreak' communities will be compared with sero-prevalence of randomly selected communities in which no recent cases have occurred.This comparison will determine whether neighbourhoods with recent cases have historically been exposed to malaria parasites, and are therefore likely to be hotspots of transmission. The existence of such hotspots would strengthen the case for targeted control efforts.

For countries that have set elimination of malaria as a policy objective this study will provide evidence upon which sustainable policy decisions about mass vector control can be based during the pre-elimination period.

PI Institution(s)

Principal Investigator (PI)

Funding source(s)

Key facts

  • Dates
    May 2014 to Oct 2016
    Funding amount
    • South Africa

MESA tags

  • Methodology
    Entomology, Operational research
    Asymptomatic reservoir, Elimination strategies, Foci, Impact of interventions, Tools for elimination