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Behind the scenes of the PRIME intervention: designing a complex intervention to improve malaria care at public health centres in Uganda

Deborah D. DiLiberto, Sarah G. Staedke, Florence Nankya, Catherine Maiteki-Sebuguzi, Lilian Taaka, Susan Nayiga, Moses R. Kamya, Ane Haaland and Clare I. R. Chandler


Background: In Uganda, health system challenges limit access to good quality healthcare and contribute to slow progress on malaria control. We developed a complex intervention (PRIME), which was designed to improve quality of care for malaria at public health centres.

Objective: Responding to calls for increased transparency, we describe the PRIME intervention’s design process, rationale, and final content and reflect on the choices and challenges encountered during the design of this complex intervention.

Design: To develop the intervention, we followed a multistep approach, including the following: 1) formative research to identify intervention target areas and objectives; 2) prioritization of intervention components; 3) review of relevant evidence; 4) development of intervention components; 5) piloting and refinement of workshop modules; and 6) consolidation of the PRIME intervention theories of change to articulate why and how the intervention was hypothesized to produce desired outcomes. We aimed to develop an intervention that was evidence-based, grounded in theory, and appropriate for the study context; could be evaluated within a randomized controlled trial; and had the potential to be scaled up sustainably.

Results: The process of developing the PRIME intervention package was lengthy and dynamic. The final intervention package consisted of four components: 1) training in fever case management and use of rapid diagnostic tests for malaria (mRDTs); 2) workshops in health centre management; 3) workshops in patient-centred services; and 4) provision of mRDTs and antimalarials when stocks ran low.

Conclusions: The slow and iterative process of intervention design contrasted with the continually shifting study context. We highlight the considerations and choices made at each design stage, discussing elements we included and why, as well as those that were ultimately excluded. Reflection on and reporting of ‘behind the scenes’ accounts of intervention design may improve the design, assessment, and generalizability of complex interventions and their evaluations.

Access the full article in Global Health Action.