Prompt, effective treatment of confirmed malaria cases with artemisinin-based combination therapy (ACT) is a cornerstone of malaria control. Maximizing adherence to ACT medicines is key to ensuring treatment effectiveness.
This open-label, randomized trial evaluated caregiver adherence to co-formulated artemether-lumefantrine (AL) and fixed-dose amodiaquine-artesunate (AQAS) in Sierra Leone. Children aged 6-59 months diagnosed with malaria were recruited from two public clinics, randomized to receive AL or AQAS, and visited at home the day after completing treatment. Analyses were stratified by site, due to differences in participant characteristics and outcomes.
Of the 784 randomized children, 680 (85.6%) were included in the final per-protocol analysis (340 AL, 340 AQAS). Definite adherence (self-reported adherence plus empty package) was higher for AL than AQAS at both sites (Site 1: 79.4% AL vs 63.4% AQAS, odds ratio [OR] 2.16, compared to probable adherence plus probable or definite non-adherence, 95% confidence interval [CI] 1.34-3.49; p = 0.001; Site 2: 52.1% AL vs 37.5% AQAS, OR 1.53, 95% CI 1.00-2.33, p = 0.049). However, self-reported adherence (ignoring drug package inspection) was higher for both regimens at both sites and there was no strong evidence of variation by treatment (Site 1: 96.6% AL vs 95.9% AQAS, OR 1.19, 95% CI 0.39-3.63, p = 0.753; Site 2: 91.5% AL vs 96.4% AQAS, OR 0.40, 95% CI 0.15-1.07, p = 0.067). In Site 2, correct treatment (correct dose + timing + duration) was lower for AL than AQAS (75.8% vs 88.1%, OR 0.42, 95% CI 0.23-0.76, p = 0.004). In both sites, more caregivers in the AQAS arm reported adverse events (Site 1: 3.4% AL vs 15.7% AQAS, p < 0.001; Site 2: 15.2% AL vs 24.4% AQAS, p = 0.039).
Self-reported adherence was high for both AL and AQAS, but varied by site. These results suggest that each regimen has potential disadvantages that might affect adherence; AL was less likely to be taken correctly at one site, but was better tolerated than AQAS at both sites. Measuring adherence to anti-malarials remains challenging, but important. Future research should focus on comparative studies of new drug regimens, and improving the methodology of measuring adherence.
Clinicaltrials.gov, NCT01967472. Retrospectively registered 18 October 2013, https://clinicaltrials.gov/ct2/show/NCT01967472.