Bulletin of the World Health Organization

External quality assessment of Giemsa-stained blood film microscopy for the diagnosis of malaria and sleeping sickness in the Democratic Republic of the Congo

Pierre Mukadi, Philippe Gillet, Albert Lukuka, Benjamin Atua, Nicole Sheshe, Albert Kanza, Jean Bosco Mayunda, Briston Mongita, Raphaël Senga, John Ngoyi, Jean-Jacques Muyembe, Jan Jacobs & Veerle Lejon

Objective

To report the findings of a second external quality assessment of Giemsa-stained blood film microscopy in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, performed one year after the first.

Methods

A panel of four slides was delivered to diagnostic laboratories in all provinces of the country. The slides contained: (i) Plasmodium falciparum gametocytes; (ii) P. falciparum trophozoites (reference density: 113 530 per µl); (iii) Trypanosoma brucei subspecies; and (iv) no parasites.

Findings

Of 356 laboratories contacted, 277 (77.8%) responded. Overall, 35.0% of the laboratories reported all four slides correctly but 14.1% reported correct results for 1 or 0 slides. Major errors included not diagnosing trypanosomiasis (50.4%), not recognizing P. falciparum gametocytes (17.5%) and diagnosing malaria from the slide with no parasites (19.0%). The frequency of serious errors in assessing parasite density and in reporting false-positive results was lower than in the previous external quality assessment: 17.2% and 52.3%, respectively, (P < 0.001) for parasite density and 19.0% and 33.3%, respectively, (P < 0.001) for false-positive results. Laboratories that participated in the previous quality assessment performed better than first-time participants and laboratories in provinces with a high number of sleeping sickness cases recognized trypanosomes more frequently (57.0% versus 31.2%, P < 0.001). Malaria rapid diagnostic tests were used by 44.3% of laboratories, almost double the proportion observed in the previous quality assessment.

Conclusion

The overall quality of blood film microscopy was poor but was improved by participation in external quality assessments. The failure to recognize trypanosomes in a country where sleeping sickness is endemic is a concern.

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