Taye Gari’s PhD thesis: Malaria, anaemia and undernutrition in Ethiopia

Taye Gari. Malaria, anaemia and undernutrition in a drought-affected area of the Rift Valley of Ethiopia: Experiences from a trial to prevent malaria.  PhD. University of Bergen, 2018. Bergen

Summary of PhD thesis

Background: In Ethiopia, malaria, anaemia and undernutrition are common childhood health problems. The country is planning to reduce these conditions to a level where they are not a public health problem. Meanwhile, for the success of this aim, a description of the occurrence and interaction of malaria, anaemia and undernutrition could help contribute to design tailored, efficient and effective control strategies. This study was done in the context of malaria prevention trial, which aimed to measure the effect of combining long-lasting insecticidal nets (LLINs) and indoor residual spraying (IRS) in reducing the malaria incidence compared to LLINs or IRS alone. The study area was affected by a serious drought and famine during the first year of the study.

Objectives: The overall aim of this thesis is to improve our understanding of the effect of malaria prevention on anaemia, and to assess the association between malaria, anaemia and undernutrition among children in a drought-affected area in south-central, Ethiopia.

Methods: A cohort of 5309 residents was followed-up for 16 weeks to measure the variations in malaria incidence among villages (Paper I), and the results were used as a baseline to calculate the sample size needed for the trial. We followed a cohort of children aged 6 to 59 months for one year to describe anaemia and changes in haemoglobin (Hb) concentration (Paper II). A cohort of 4468 children was followed-up for 89 weeks to measure the relationship between malaria and undernutrition (Paper III). Weekly home visits and patient self-referral were also used to identify malaria cases. We conducted Hb concentration (once a year) and anthropometry (twice a year) surveys.

Results: In Paper I, we observed a variation in malaria incidence among villages. On the other hand, the insecticide-treated nets ownership was low (27%), with the distance from the lake or river and younger age being the main risk factors for malaria. The findings of this study were used as a baseline to calculate the sample size for the trial. In Paper II, despite the malaria prevention effort in the community, we observed an unexpected increase in anaemia prevalence over the period of a year, which could be due to the drought and famine that affected the area. A higher incidence of anaemia was observed among children with stunting, malaria infection, young age and in poor families. However, no significant difference in anaemia prevalence was observed among the different trial arms (LLIN+IRS, LLINs alone, IRS alone and routine arm). In Paper III, malaria infection was a risk factor for stunting and wasting, although undernutrition was not a risk for malaria infection. Furthermore, an increase in the prevalence of stunting, but no significant change in a prevalence of wasting was observed over time.

Conclusions: We showed a large variation in malaria incidence among villages. Conducting trials in a drought-prone area may bring an unexpected challenge. We observed an unexpected increase in anaemia prevalence over a year. There was no significant difference in anaemia prevalence among the trial arms. Moreover, a close follow-up of the nutritional status of children with malaria infection may be needed. There could hence be a need to prioritize villages nearer to the main mosquito breeding sites for malaria control.

Trial registration: PACTR 201411000882128 (8 September, 2014)

The Thesis can be downloaded here

Malaria, anaemia and undernutrition

On Friday June 22, 2018 Taye Gari Anaya will defend his PhD thesis at the University of Bergen. 

The title of his thesis is: “Malaria, anaemia and undernutrition in a drought-affected area of the Rift Valley of Ethiopia: Experiences from a trial to prevent malaria”.

Malaria, anaemia and malnutrition are interconnected, and often coexist in prevalent areas such as in sub-Saharan Africa, including Ethiopia. Although individuals in all ages of life are affected by these conditions, children under the age of 5 represent the most vulnerable group. Ethiopia is planning to reduce these conditions to a level where they are not public health problems Meanwhile, for the success of this aim, a description of the occurrence and interaction of malaria, anaemia and undernutrition could help to design tailored, efficient and effective control strategies.  

This thesis measures the effect of malaria prevention on anaemia reduction, and assesses the association between malaria, anaemia and undernutrition among a cohort of children aged 6 to 59 months old followed in a drought-affected rural area in south-central, Ethiopia.

The study showed a large variation in malaria incidence among villages in the same district. Despite community wide malaria prevention effort, an unexpected increase in anaemia prevalence was observed over a year. Malaria infection was a risk factor for undernutrition, although undernutrition was not a risk for malaria infection. There could be a need to prioritise villages nearer to the main mosquito breeding sites for malaria control. Moreover, a close follow-up of the nutritional status of children with malaria infection may be needed. 


Taye Gari Ayana is from Hawassa in south Ethiopia. He completed Master degree in Public Health from Addis Ababa University in Ethiopia. From 2013 he has been affiliated with the Centre for International Health as a PhD candidate. Now he is a lecturer at the School of Public Health, at Hawassa University in Ethiopia. His supervisors were Professor Bernt Lindtjørn, Dr Eskindir Loha and Dr Wakgari Deressa. 

Maternal Mortality and Stillbirths More than Halved

The 2017 Annual report from the Centre for International Health at the University of Bergen writes about the implementation reserach in south Ethiopia:

Making standard delivery services available for all is the most important factor for improving maternal mortality. Furthermore, the study suggests that stillbirths can also be reduced if the health services focus on improved obstetric care.

Professor Bernt Lindtjørn led a project in south-western Ethiopia studying how a number of interventions could reduce maternal mortality and stillbirths. As a result of the research efforts, there was 64% reduction in maternal mortality and a 46% reduction in stillbirths.

Lindtjørn explains that there are several reasons why mothers die in childbirth, but he highlights that the main causes are insufficient numbers of institutions and trained personnel, as well as a lack of access to services (i.e. transportation) as being the most important factors.

The project’s positive results were associated with increasing the numbers of trained staff, increasing the num- bers of institutions undertaking Comprehensive Emergency Obstetric Care (CEmOC), increasing the numbers of mothers having Caesarean sections, increasing in the numbers of antenatal controls and referrals, improving access to health service, decreasing in number of home deliveries and decreasing the use of traditional birth attendants.

The goals for the project were straight forward and included making small hospitals available for rural popu- lations, improving referrals (i.e. from health posts to health centres to hospitals when necessary), undertaking additional training for non-clinical physicians, nurses, midwives, and health extension workers, making essential equipment available, and supervising the health care services on offer.

The project was based on the principle of “learning by doing” and involved short courses in Basic Emergen- cy Obstetric Care (BEmOC) and Comprehensive Emergency Obstetric Care (CEmOC), as well as anaesthesiolo- gy, scrub nursing and Continuing Medical Education (CME). It also included Master and PhD training in Public Health: one PhD and 6 master degrees resulted from the project.

The publications from this project can be viewed here.

Reducing stillbirths in Ethiopia

Lindtjorn B, Mitike D, Zidda Z, Yaya Y. Reducing stillbirths in Ethiopia: Results of an intervention programme. PLoS One. 2018;13(5):e0197708. Epub 2018/05/31. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0197708. PubMed PMID: 29847607.

Previous studies from South Ethiopia have shown that interventions that focus on intrapartum care substantially reduce maternal mortality and there is a need to operationalize health packages that could reduce stillbirths. The aim of this paper is to evaluate if a programme that aimed to improve maternal health, and mainly focusing on strengthening intrapartum care, also would reduce the number of stillbirths, and to estimate if there are other indicators that explains high stillbirth rates. Our study used a “continuum of care” approach and focussed on providing essential antenatal and obstetric services in communities through health extension workers, at antenatal and health facility services. In this follow up study, which includes the same 38.312 births registered by community health workers, shows that interventions focusing on improved intrapartum care can also reduce stillbirths (by 46%; from 14.5 to 7.8 per 1000 births). Other risk factors for stillbirths are mainly related to complications during delivery and illnesses during pregnancy. We show that focusing on Comprehensive Emergency Obstetric Care and antenatal services reduces stillbirths. However, the study also underlines that illnesses during pregnancy and complications during delivery still represent the main risk factors for stillbirths. This indicates that obstetric care need still to be strengthened, should include the continuum of care from home to the health facility, make care accessible to all, and reduce delays.


The risk for death remains high for patients treated for tuberculosis in Ethiopia

Dangisso MH, Woldesemayat EM, Datiko DG, Lindtjorn B. Long-term outcome of smear-positive tuberculosis patients after initiation and completion of treatment: A ten-year retrospective cohort study. PLoS One. 2018;13(3):e0193396. Epub 2018/03/13. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0193396. PubMed PMID: 29529036; PubMed Central PMCID: PMCPMC5846790.

Background: The status of tuberculosis (TB) patients since initiation of treatment is unknown in South Ethiopia. The objective of this study was to assess the long-term outcomes of smear-positive TB patients since initiation and completion of treatment, which includes TB recurrence and mortality of TB patients.

Methods: We did a retrospective cohort study on 2,272 smear-positive TB patients who initiated treatment for TB from September 1, 2002-October 10, 2012 in health facilities in Dale district and Yirgalem town administration. We followed them from the date of start of treatment to either the date of interview or date of death.

Results: Recurrence rate of TB was 15.2 per 1000 person-years. Recurrence was higher for re-treatment cases (adjusted hazard ratio (aHR), 2.7; 95% CI, 1.4-5.3). Mortality rate of TB patients was 27.1 per 1,000 person-years. The risk was high for patients above 34 years of age (aHR, 2.1; 95% CI, 1.2-3.9), poor patients (aHR, 1.3; 95% CI, 1.0-1.8), patients with poor treatment outcomes (aHR, 6.7; 95% CI, 5.1-8.9) and for patients treated at least 3 times (aHR 4.8; 95% CI, 2.1-11.1). The excess mortality occurred among patients aged above 34 years was high (41.2/1000 person years).

Conclusions: High TB recurrence and death of TB patients was observed among our study participants. Follow-up of TB patients with the risk factors and managing them could reduce the TB burden.

Successful midway evaluations for 7 PhD students at Hawassa University

On Thursday April 25, seven PhD students admitted to the joint PhD degree programme between the Hawassa University and the University of Bergen, had their mid-way evaluations. Evaluators were senior staff from both Hawassa University and the University of Bergen.

The midway evaluation has the following goals:

  • to find the status regarding the progress and development of the individual PhD project
  • to give the candidate the possibility to present the whole project for a committee

The following students presented their research:

Alemselam Zebdewos: Preventing iron deficiency anaemia: Evaluation of amaranth grain supplementation to 2-5 years old children in southern Ethiopia, a randomized controlled trial

Samrawit Hailu: Childhood illness and health service utilization in Wonago District, South Ethiopia. A community –based cohort study

Sewhareg Belay: Intimate Partner violence during pregnancy: Prevalence, health effect and knowledge about it in Sidama zone, Southern Ethiopia

Hiwot Hailu: Assessment of school health problems in Gedeo Zone, Southern Ethiopia

Bereket Yohannes: Assessing validity of the ‘Household Food Insecurity Access Scale’, and seasonality in food insecurity and undernutrition in rural Southwest Ethiopia

Mehretu Belayneh: Magnitude, seasonality and spatial distribution of under-nutrition among children aged 6-59 months, Boricha, Southern Ethiopia

Moges Tadesse: Maternal and Neonatal illnesses, its economic burden, and health service utilisation in rural Ethiopia: A community-based prospective cohort study

Improved housing reduces malaria

Getawen SK, Ashine T, Massebo F, Woldeyes D, Lindtjorn B. Exploring the impact of house screening intervention on entomological indices and incidence of malaria in Arba Minch town, southwest Ethiopia: A randomized control trial. Acta Trop. 2018;181:84-94. Epub 2018/02/17. doi: 10.1016/j.actatropica.2018.02.009. PubMed PMID: 29452110

House is the major site for malaria infection where most human-vector contact takes place. Hence, improving housing might reduce the risk of malaria infection by limiting house entry of vectors. This study aimed to explore the impact of screening doors and windows with wire meshes on density and entomological inoculation rate (EIR) of malaria vector, and malaria incidence, and assess the acceptability, durability, and cost of the intervention. The susceptibility status of malaria vector was also assessed.

A two-arm randomized trial was done in Arba Minch Town, southwest Ethiopia. 92 houses were randomly included in the trial. The baseline entomological and malaria prevalence data were collected. The mosquito sampling was done twice per household per month by Centers for Diseases Control and Prevention (CDC) light traps for six months. The baseline prevalence of malaria was assessed by testing 396 (83% of the 447 study participants) household members in all the eligible houses. The 92 houses were then randomized into control and intervention groups using mosquito and malaria prevalence baseline data to make the two groups comparable except the intervention. Then, we put wire-mesh on doors and windows of 46 houses. Post-screening mosquito collection was done in each household twice per month for three months. Each household member was visited twice per month for six months to assess malaria episodes. The frequency of damage to different structure of screening was measured twice. In-depth interview was conducted with 24 purposely selected household heads from intervention group. Speciation of Anopheles mosquito was done by morphological key, and the circum-sporozoite proteins (CSPs) analysis was done using enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay. A generalized estimating equation with a negative binomial distribution was used to assess the impact of the intervention on the indoor density of vectors. Clinical malaria case data were analyzed using Poisson regression with generalized linear model.

Screening doors and windows reduced the indoor density of An. arabiensis by 48% (mean ratio of intervention to control = 0.85/1.65; 0.52) (P = .001). Plasmodium falciparum CSP rate was 1.6% (3/190) in the intervention houses, while it was 2.7% (10/372) in the control houses. The protective efficacy of screening intervention from CSP positive An. arabiensis was 41% (mean ratio of intervention to control = 1.6/2.7; 0.59), but was not statistically significant (P = .6). The EIR of An. arabiensis was 1.91 in the intervention group, whereas it was 6.45 in the control group. 477 participants were followed for clinical malaria (50.1% from intervention and 49.9% from the control group). Of 49 RDT positive cases, 45 were confirmed to be positive with microscopy. 80% (n = 36) cases were due to P. falciparum and the rest 20% (n = 9) were due to P. vivax. The incidence of P. falciparum in the intervention group was lower (IRR: 0.39, 95% CI: 0.2-0.80; P = .01) than in the control group. Using incidence of P. falciparum infection, the protective efficacy of intervention was 61% (95% CI: 18-83; P = .007). 97.9% of screened windows and 63.8% of screened doors were intact after eleven months of installation. Malaria mosquito was resistance (mortality rate of 75%) to the insecticide used for bed nets treatment. Almost all participants of intervention arm were willing to continue using screened doors and windows.

Screening doors and windows reduced the indoor exposure to malaria vectors. The intervention is effective, durable and well-accepted. Hence, the existing interventions can be supplemented with house screening intervention for further reduction and ultimately elimination of malaria by reducing insecticide pressure on malaria vectors. However, further research could be considered in broad setting on different housing improvement and in the way how to scale-up for wider community.


Intended and non-intended use of bed nets for malaria protection

Doda Z, Solomon T, Loha E, Gari T and Lindtjørn B. A qualitative study of use of long-lasting insecticidal nets (LLINs) for intended and unintended purposes in Adami Tullu, East Shewa Zone, Ethiopia. Malaria Journal 2018;17:69  https://doi.org/10.1186/s12936-018-2209-5


Background  Malaria poses a significant public health threat globally, across Africa and in Ethiopia. The use of long-lasting insecticidal nets (LLINs) is currently a proven prevention mechanism. Evidence is building on what happens to LLINs following mass distribution campaigns, with mixed results from different studies, some reporting very low use for intended purposes, others an encouraging level of using for intended purposes. In Ethiopia, between 2005 and 2015, about 64 million LLINs were distributed through periodic mass campaigns with the aims to achieve 100% coverage and 80% utilization. However, studies from rural Ethiopia showed variable LLINs coverage and utilization rate. The MalTrial Project, a collaborative venture between Hawassa University, Ethiopia and NROAID, Norway, has started a trial project in 2014 in Adami Tullu District of central Ethiopia. Quantitative surveys have established evidence on LLINs ownership and utilization, but the behavioural, sociocultural and socioeconomic dynamics of why LLINs’ use for intended purposes is low or why they are employed for other purposes remained elusive. The present qualitative study, building on the quantitative findings and framework, therefore, attempted to fill gaps in these areas using qualitative methods in selected localities of the district.

Methods  The study employed 7 focus groups, 16 individual interviews and observation to undertake data collection in January 2017. The data were analysed using NVivo Version 11 (QSR International) to transcribe, code and identify themes using thematic analysis approach.

Results  The study found out that certain households were more likely to use nets for intended needs in proper ways; a range of factors, notably socio-cultural and poverty, highly influence users’ ideas about the right ways and decisions to use and care for the nets; knowledge gaps and wrong perception exist regarding the purposes and life cycle of the nets; LLINs are employed for repurposed uses once they are considered non-viable, old, or lose their physical integrity; existence of misuse was acknowledged and understood as wrong; and values about gender roles further shape uses, misuses and repurposed use of the nets.

Conclusions  Behavioural, socio-cultural, economic and ecological conditions coupled with deficiencies in perceived bed net design and distribution policies; weak education, communication and social support structures were important in understanding and accounting for why a low level of intended use and a rampant misuse and repurposed use in Adami Tullu community of Ethiopia. A major nexus to address in order to improve intended use of LLINs lies, first and foremost, in economic poverty and socio-cultural factors that underlie much of the misuse and repurposed use of the nets.

Keywords  LLINs Malaria; Intended uses; Misuses; Repurposed uses; Collateral benefits of LLINs


Malaria increases the risk of stunting and wasting

Gari T, Loha E, Deressa W, Solomon T, Lindtjørn B (2018) Malaria increased the risk of stunting and wasting among young children in Ethiopia: Results of a cohort study. PLoS ONE 13(1): e0190983.

Introduction  Given the high prevalence of malnutrition in a malaria-endemic setting, improving nutritional status could serve as a tool to prevent malaria. However, the relationship between the two conditions remains unclear. Therefore, this study assessed the association between under-nutrition and malaria among a cohort of children aged 6 to 59 months old.

Methods  Two cohorts of children were followed for 89 weeks in a rural Rift Valley area of Ethiopia. In the first approach (malaria-malnutrition), a cohort of 2,330 non-stunted and 4,204 non-wasted children were included to assess under-nutrition (outcome) based on their previous malaria status (exposure). In the second approach (malnutrition–malaria), a cohort of 4,468 children were followed-up to measure malaria (outcome), taking under-nutrition as an exposure. A weekly home visit was carried out to identify malaria cases. Four anthropometry surveys were conducted, and generalized estimating equation (GEE) method was used to measure the association between undernutrition and malaria.

Results  The prevalence of stunting was 44.9% in December 2014, 51.5% in August 2015, 50.7% in December 2015 and 48.1% in August 2016. We observed 103 cases with 118 episodes of malaria, 684 new stunting and 239 new wasting cases. The incidence rate per 10,000 weeks of observation was 3.8 for malaria, 50.4 for stunting and 8.2 for wasting. Children with malaria infection, [Adjusted Odds Ratio (AOR) = 1.9; 95% Confidence Interval (CI), 1.2–2.9)] and younger age (AOR = 1.3; 95% CI, 1.1–1.5) were more likely to be stunted. Furthermore, children with malaria infection (AOR = 8.5; 95% CI, 5.0–14.5) and young age group (AOR = 1.6; 95% CI, 1.2–2.1) were more likely to be wasted. However, stunting and wasting were not risk factors of subsequent malaria illness.

Conclusions  Malaria infection was a risk factor for stunting and wasting, but stunting or wasting was not associated with subsequent malaria illness. As our study shows that malaria is a risk factor for stunting and wasting, a close follow-up of the nutritional status of such children may be needed.

Use of epidemiological and entomological tools in the control and elimination of malaria in Ethiopia

Animut A and Lindtjørn B. Use of epidemiological and entomological tools in the control and elimination of malaria in EthiopiaMalaria Journal 2018; 17:26.

Malaria is the leading public health problem in Ethiopia where over 75% of the land surface is at risk with varying intensities depending on altitude and season. Although the mortality because of malaria infection has declined much during the last 15–20 years, some researchers worry that this success story may not be sustainable. Past notable achievements in the reduction of malaria disease burden could be reversed in the future. To interrupt, or even to eliminate malaria transmission in Ethiopia, there is a need to implement a wide range of interventions that include insecticide-treated bed nets, indoor residual spraying, improved control of residual malaria transmission, and improved diagnostics, enhanced surveillance, and methods to deal with the emergence of resistance both to drugs and to insecticides. Developments during the past years with increasing awareness about the role of very low levels of malaria prevalence can sustain infections, may also demand that tools not used in the routine control efforts to reduce or eliminate malaria, should now be made available in places where malaria transmission occurs.