The Democratic Republic of the Congo adopted the strategy of using, at the community level, a dose of rectal artesunate as a pre-referral treatment for severe malaria amongst children under 5 years who could not quickly reach a health care facility and take oral medication. However, the adherence to referral advice after the integration of this strategy and the acceptability of the strategy were unknown.

To assess adherence by the mothers/caretakers of children under 5 years to referral advice provided by the community health workers after pre-referral treatment of severe malaria with rectal artesunate, the authors conducted a noninferiority community trial with a pre- and post-intervention design in 63 (pre-intervention) and 51 (post-intervention) community care sites in 4 provinces (Kasaï-Oriental, Kasaï-Central, Lomami, Lualaba) from August 2014 through June 2016. The pre- and post-intervention surveys targets 387 mothers of children under 5 years and 63 community health workers and 346 mothers and 41 community health workers, respectively. A 15% margin was considered for noninferiority analyses due to the expected decrease in adherence to referral advice after the introduction of the new intervention.

The mothers acknowledged that the rectal route was often used (60.7%), and medicines given rectally were considered more effective (63.6%) and easy to administer (69.7%). The acceptability of pre-referral rectal artesunate was relatively high: 79.4% (95% CI 75.4–83.3) among mothers, 90.3% (95% CI 82.3–96.8) among community health workers, and 97.8% (95% CI 93.3–100) among nurses. Adherence to referral advice at post-intervention [84.3% (95% CI 80.6–88.1)] was non-inferior to pre-intervention adherence [94.1% (95% CI 91.7–96.4)].

The integration of pre-referral rectal artesunate for severe malaria into the community care site in the DR Congo is feasible and acceptable. It positively affected adherence to referral advice. However, more health education is needed for parents of children under 5 years and community health workers.