Opening the policy blackbox: unravelling the process for changing national diagnostic and treatment guidelines for vivax malaria

30 Oct 2021
Ruwanpura V, Neukom J, Grietens KP, Price RN, Thriemer K, Lynch CA

The changing global health landscape has highlighted the need for more proactive, efficient and transparent health policy-making. After more than 60 years of limited development, novel tools for vivax malaria are finally available, but need to be integrated into national policies. This paper maps the malaria policy-making processes in seven endemic countries, to identify areas where it can be improved to align with best practices and optimal efficiency.

Data were collected during a workshop, convened by the Asia Pacific Malaria Elimination Network’s Vivax Working Group in 2019, and subsequent interviews with key stakeholders from Cambodia, Ethiopia, Indonesia, Pakistan, Papua New Guinea (PNG), Sri Lanka and Vietnam. Documentation of policy processes provided by respondents was reviewed. Data analysis was guided by an analytic framework focused on three a priori defined domains: “context,” “actors” and “processes”.

The context of policy-making varied with available funding for malaria, population size, socio-economic status, and governance systems. There was limited documentation of the process itself or terms of reference for involved actors. In all countries, the NMP plays a critical role in initiating and informing policy change, but the involvement of other actors varied considerably. Available evidence was described as a key influencer of policy change; however, the importance of local evidence and the World Health Organization’s endorsement of new treatments and diagnostics varied. The policy process itself and its complexity varied but was mostly semi-siloed from other disease specific policy processes in the wider Ministry of Health. Time taken to change and introduce a new policy guideline previously varied from 3 months to 3 years.

In the medium to long term, a better alignment of anti-malarial policy-making processes with the overall health policy-making would strengthen health governance. In the immediate term, shortening the timelines for policy change will be pivotal to meet proposed malaria elimination milestones.