Severe acute malnutrition treatment delivered by low-literate community health workers in South Sudan: A prospective cohort study

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Naoko Kozuki and Et al
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Community health worker (CHW)-delivered acute malnutrition treatment programs have been tested previously, but not with low-literate/-numerate cadres who operate in areas with the highest malnutrition burden and under-five mortality rates. The International Rescue Committee developed low-literacy-adapted tools and treatment protocol to enable low-literate/-numerate community-based distributors (CBD, the CHW cadre in South Sudan) to treat children for severe acute malnutrition (SAM) in their communities.

The authors conducted a prospective cohort study in March-September 2017, with 44 CBDs enrolling a total of 308 SAM children into treatment in their communities. Child treatment outcomes and length of treatment were documented. Uncomplicated SAM cases, defined for our study as children with mid-upper arm circumference (MUAC) of 90 to <115 mm or bilateral pitting oedema, without any medical complications, were treated for up to 16 weeks, and were considered fully recovered when they reached MUAC≥125 mm for two consecutive weeks.

The recovery rate from the severe to the moderate acute malnutrition (MAM) cut-off of MUAC 115 mm was 91% (95% confidence interval (CI) = 88%-95%). The median length of treatment was five weeks. The recovery rate of children from SAM to full recovery was 75% (95% CI = 69%-81%). The median time to full recovery was eight weeks. The recovery rates reported here exclude children referred for care from the denominator, per standard reporting of acute malnutrition treatment recovery rates. When the data were compared against routine monitoring and evaluation data from nearby static clinics, children treated by CBDs appeared to have improved continuity of care and shorter time to recovery.

The recovery rate for SAM children enrolled in acute malnutrition treatment by low-literate CBDs shows promise that deploying CHWs to treat SAM in areas with high prevalence and low treatment access may lead to higher recovery, better continuity of care in the transition between SAM and MAM, and shorter treatment time. Proper adaptations of tools and protocols can empower CHW cadres with low literacy and numeracy to successfully complete treatment steps. Key questions of scalability and cost-effectiveness remain.
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