Impact on child acute malnutrition of integrating small-quantity lipid-based nutrient supplements into community-level screening for acute malnutrition: A cluster-randomized controlled trial in Mali.
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Author summaryWhy was this study done? Child acute malnutrition (AM) is a serious public health problem affecting 52 million children under the age of 5 years worldwide. Background Community-based management of acute malnutrition (CMAM) has been widely adopted to treat childhood acute malnutrition (AM), but its effectiveness in program settings is often limited by implementation constraints, low screening coverage, and poor treatment uptake and adherence. This study addresses the problem of low screening coverage by testing the impact of distributing small-quantity lipid-based nutrient supplements (SQ-LNSs) at monthly screenings held by community health volunteers (CHVs). Screening sessions included behavior change communication (BCC) on nutrition, health, and hygiene practices (both study arms) and SQ-LNSs (one study arm). Impact was assessed on AM screening and treatment coverage and on AM incidence and prevalence. Methods and findings A two-arm cluster-randomized controlled trial in 48 health center catchment areas in the Bla and San health districts in Mali was conducted from February 2015 to April 2017. In both arms, CHVs led monthly AM screenings in children 6-23 months of age and provided BCC to caregivers. The intervention arm also received a monthly supply of SQ-LNSs to stimulate caregivers' participation and supplement children's diet. We used two study designs: i) a repeated cross-sectional study (n = approximately 2,300) with baseline and endline surveys to examine impacts on AM screening and treatment coverage and prevalence (primary study outcomes) and ii) a longitudinal study of children enrolled at 6 months of age (n = 1,132) and followed monthly for 18 months to assess impact on AM screening and treatment coverage and incidence (primary study outcomes). All analyses were done by intent to treat. The intervention significantly increased AM screening coverage (cross-sectional study: +40 percentage points [pp], 95% confidence interval [CI]: 32, 49, p < 0.001; longitudinal study: +28 pp, 95% CI: 23, 33, p < 0.001). No impact on treatment coverage or AM prevalence was found. Children in the intervention arm, however, were 29% (95% CI: 8, 46; p = 0.017) less likely to develop a first AM episode (incidence) and, compared to children in comparison arm, their overall risk of AM (longitudinal prevalence) was 30% (95% CI: 12, 44; p = 0.002) lower. The intervention lowered CMAM enrollment by 10 pp (95% CI: 1.9, 18; p = 0.016), an unintended negative impact likely due to CHVs handing out preventive SQ-LNSs to caregivers of AM children instead of referring them to the CMAM program. Study limitations were i) the referral of AM cases by our research team (for ethical reasons) during monthly measurements in the longitudinal study might have interfered with usual CMAM activities and ii) the outcomes presented by child age also reflect seasonal variations because of the closed cohort design. Conclusions Incorporating SQ-LNSs into monthly community-level AM screenings and BCC sessions was highly effective at improving screening coverage and reducing AM incidence, but it did not improve AM prevalence or treatment coverage. Future evaluation and implementation research on CMAM should carefully assess and tackle the remaining barriers that prevent AM cases from being correctly diagnosed, referred, and adequately treated.
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