BACKGROUND: In Ethiopia, malaria transmission is seasonal and unstable, with both Plasmodium falciparum and Plasmodium vivax endemic. Such spatial and temporal clustering of malaria only serves to underscore the importance of regularly collecting up-to-date malaria surveillance data to inform decision-making in malaria control. Cross-sectional school-based malaria surveys were conducted across Oromia Regional State to generate up-to-date data for planning malaria control interventions, as well as monitoring and evaluation of operational programme implementation.
METHODS: Two hundred primary schools were randomly selected using a stratified and weighted sampling frame; 100 children aged five to 18 years were then randomly chosen within each school. Surveys were carried out in May 2009 and from October to December 2009, to coincide with the peak of malaria transmission in different parts of Oromia. Each child was tested for malaria by expert microscopy, their haemoglobin measured and a simple questionnaire completed. Satellite-derived environmental data were used to assess ecological correlates of Plasmodium infection; Bayesian geostatistical methods and Kulldorff's spatial scan statistic were employed to investigate spatial heterogeneity.
RESULTS: A total 20,899 children from 197 schools provided blood samples, two selected schools were inaccessible and one school refused to participate. The overall prevalence of Plasmodium infection was found to be 0.56% (95% CI: 0.46-0.67%), with 53% of infections due to P. falciparum and 47% due to P. vivax. Of children surveyed, 17.6% (95% CI: 17.0-18.1%) were anaemic, while 46% reported sleeping under a mosquito net the previous night. Malaria was found at 30 (15%) schools to a maximum elevation of 2,187 metres, with school-level Plasmodium prevalence ranging between 0% and 14.5%. Although environmental variables were only weakly associated with P. falciparum and P. vivax infection, clusters of infection were identified within Oromia.
CONCLUSION: These findings demonstrate the marked spatial heterogeneity of malaria in Oromia and, in general, Ethiopia, and provide a strong epidemiological basis for planning as well as monitoring and evaluating malaria control in a setting with seasonal and unstable malaria transmission.