In rural areas of South and Southeast Asia malaria is declining but febrile illnesses still account for substantial morbidity and mortality. Village health workers (VHWs) are often the first point of contact with the formal health system, and for patients with febrile illnesses they can provide early diagnosis and treatment of malaria. However, for the majority of febrile patients, VHWs lack the training, support and resources to provide further care. Consequently, treatable bacterial illnesses are missed, antibiotics are overused and poorly targeted, and patient attendance wanes along with declining malaria. This Open Letter announces the start of a new initiative, the Rural Febrile Illness (RFI) project, the first in a series of projects to be implemented as part of the South and Southeast Asian Community-based Trials Network (SEACTN) research programme. This multi-country, multi-site project will begin in Bangladesh, Cambodia, Lao PDR, and Myanmar and will define the epidemiological baseline of febrile illness in five remote and underserved areas of Asia where malaria endemicity is declining and access to health services is limited. The RFI project aims to determine the incidence, causes and outcomes of febrile illness; understand the opportunities, barriers and appetite for adjustment of the role of VHWs to include management of non-malarial febrile illnesses; and establish a network of community healthcare providers and facilities capable of implementing interventions designed to triage, diagnose and treat patients presenting with febrile illnesses within these communities in the future.
Wellcome open research
Centre for Tropical Medicine and Global Health, Nuffield Department of Medicine, University of Oxford, Oxford, UK.