Effectiveness of a monthly schedule of follow-up for the treatment of uncomplicated severe acute malnutrition in Sokoto, Nigeria: A cluster randomized crossover trial.

Hitchings MDT Berthé F Aruna P Shehu I Hamza MA Nanama S Steve-Edemba C Grais RF Isanaka S
PLoS medicine 2022 Mar ; 19(3); e1003923. doi: 10.1371/journal.pmed.1003923. Epub 2022 03 01


BACKGROUND: Community-based management of severe acute malnutrition (SAM) involves weekly or biweekly outpatient clinic visits for clinical surveillance and distribution of therapeutic foods. Distance to outpatient clinics and high opportunity costs for caregivers can represent major barriers to access. Reducing the frequency of outpatient visits while providing training to caregivers to recognize clinical danger signs at home between outpatient visits may increase acceptability, coverage, and public health impact of SAM treatment. We investigated the effectiveness of monthly clinic visits compared to the standard weekly follow-up in the outpatient treatment of uncomplicated SAM in northwestern Nigeria.

METHODS AND FINDINGS: We conducted a cluster randomized crossover trial to test the noninferiority of nutritional recovery in children with uncomplicated SAM receiving monthly follow-up compared to the standard weekly schedule. From January 2018 to November 2019, 3,945 children aged 6 to 59 months were enrolled at 10 health centers (5 assigned to monthly follow-up and 5 assigned to weekly follow-up) in Sokoto, Nigeria. In total, 96% of children (n = 1,976 in the monthly follow-up group and 1,802 in the weekly follow-up group) were followed until program discharge, and 91% (n = 1,873 in the monthly follow-up group and 1,721 in the weekly follow-up group) were followed to 3 months postdischarge. The mean age at admission was 15.8 months (standard deviation [SD] 7.1), 2,097/3,945 (53.2%) were girls, and the mean midupper arm circumference (MUAC) at admission was 105.8 mm (SD 6.0). In a modified intention-to-treat analysis, the primary outcome of nutritional recovery, defined as having MUAC ≥125 mm on 2 consecutive visits, was analyzed using generalized linear models, with generalized estimating equations to account for clustering. Nutritional recovery was lower in the monthly follow-up group compared to the weekly group (1,036/1,976, 52.4% versus 1,059/1,802, 58.8%; risk difference: -6.8%), and noninferiority was not demonstrated (lower bound of the confidence interval [CI] was -11.5%, lower than the noninferiority margin of 10%). The proportion of children defaulting was lower in the monthly group than in the weekly group (109/1,976, 5.5% versus 151/1,802, 8.4%, p = 0.03). Three months postdischarge, children in the monthly group were less likely to relapse compared to those in the weekly group (58/976, 5.9% versus 78/1,005, 7.8%, p = 0.03), but cumulative mortality at 3 months postdischarge was higher in the monthly group (159/1,873, 8.5% versus 106/1,721, 6.2%, p

CONCLUSIONS: Where feasible, a weekly schedule of clinic visits should be preferred to maintain effectiveness of SAM treatment. Where geographic coverage of programs is low or frequent travel to outpatient clinics is difficult or impossible, a monthly schedule of visits may provide an alternative model to deliver treatment to those in need. Modifications to the outpatient follow-up schedule, for example, weekly clinic visits until initial weight gain has been achieved followed by monthly visits, could increase the effectiveness of the model and add flexibility for program delivery.

TRIAL REGISTRATION: ClinicalTrials.gov NCT03140904.