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False-negative malaria rapid diagnostic test results and their impact on community-based malaria surveys in sub-Saharan Africa
Authors: Oliver J Watson, Kelsey Marie Sumner, Mark Janko, Varun Goel, Peter Winskill, Hannah C Slater, Azra Ghani, Steven R Meshnick, and Jonathan B Parr
Source: BMJ Global Health, 4: e001582; DOI: 10.1136/bmjgh-2019-001582
Topic(s): Malaria
Country: Africa
   Multiple African Countries
Published: JUL 2019
Abstract: Surveillance and diagnosis of Plasmodium falciparum malaria relies predominantly on rapid diagnostic tests (RDT). However, false-negative (FN) RDT results are known to occur for a variety of reasons, including operator error, poor storage conditions, pfhrp2/3 gene deletions, poor performance of specific RDT brands and lots, and low-parasite density infections. We used RDT and microscopy results from 85 000 children enrolled in Demographic Health Surveys and Malaria Indicator Surveys from 2009 to 2015 across 19 countries to explore the distribution of and risk factors for FN-RDTs in sub-Saharan Africa, where malaria’s impact is greatest. We sought to (1) identify spatial and demographic patterns of FN-RDT results, defined as a negative RDT but positive gold standard microscopy test, and (2) estimate the percentage of infections missed within community-based malaria surveys due to FN-RDT results. Across all studies, 19.9% (95% CI 19.0% to 20.9%) of microscopy-positive subjects were negative by RDT. The distribution of FN-RDT results was spatially heterogeneous. The variance in FN-RDT results was best explained by the prevalence of malaria, with an increase in FN-RDT results observed at lower transmission intensities, among younger subjects, and in urban areas. The observed proportion of FN-RDT results was not predicted by differences in RDT brand or lot performance alone. These findings characterise how the probability of detection by RDTs varies in different transmission settings and emphasise the need for careful interpretation of prevalence estimates based on surveys employing RDTs alone. Further studies are needed to characterise the cost-effectiveness of improved malaria diagnostics (eg, PCR or highly sensitive RDTs) in community-based surveys, especially in regions of low transmission intensity or high urbanicity.