BACKGROUND: The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends consideration of mass drug administration (MDA) for malaria control in low-endemic settings approaching elimination. However, MDA remains a controversial strategy, as multiple individual, social, and operational factors have shown to affect its acceptability at local levels. This is further complicated by inconsistent definitions of key indicators derived from individual and community involvement-coverage, adherence, and compliance-that cast doubts about the actual and potential epidemiological impact of MDA on disease control and elimination. This study aimed to identify limitations and enabling factors impacting involvement at different stages of a large cluster-randomized trial assessing the effect of combining dihydroartemisinin-piperaquine (DP) and ivermectin (IVM) in malaria transmission in The Gambia.
METHODS: This social science study used a mixed-methods approach. Qualitative data were collected in intervention and control villages through ethnographic methods, including in-depth interviews (IDIs), focus group discussions (FGDs), and participant observation conducted with trial participants and decliners, community leaders, and field staff. A cross-sectional survey was conducted in the intervention villages after the first year of MDA. Both strands of the study explored malaria knowledge and opinions, social dynamics influencing decision-making, as well as perceived risks, burdens, and benefits associated with this MDA.
RESULTS: 157 IDIs and 11 FGDs were conducted, and 864 respondents were included in the survey. Barriers and enabling factors to involvement were differentially influential at the various stages of the MDA. Issues of social influence, concerns regarding secondary effects of the medication, costs associated with malaria, and acceptability of the implementing organization, among other factors, differently affected the decision-making processes throughout the trial. Rather than a linear trajectory, involvement in this MDA trial was subjected to multiple revaluations from enrolment and consent to medicine intake and adherence to treatment.
CONCLUSIONS: This study went beyond the individual factors often associated with coverage and adherence, and found that nuanced social dynamics greatly influence the decision-making process at all phases of the trial. These issues need to be consider for MDA implementation strategies and inform discussions about more accurate ways of reporting on critical effectiveness indicators.