Methods: Case definitions of severe malaria were developed from a literature review and a consensus meeting of expert consultants and the RTS, S Clinical Trial Partnership Committee, in collaboration with the World Health Organization and the Malaria Clinical Trials Alliance. The same groups, with input from an Independent Data Monitoring Committee, developed and implemented a programme for standardized data collection.
The case definitions developed reflect the typical presentations of severe malaria in African hospitals. Markers of disease severity were chosen on the basis of their association with poor outcome, occurrence in a significant proportion of cases and on an ability to standardize their measurement across research centres. For the primary case definition, one or more clinical and/or laboratory markers of disease severity have to be present, four major co-morbidities (pneumonia, meningitis, bacteraemia or gastroenteritis with severe dehydration) are excluded, and a Plasmodium falciparum parasite density threshold is introduced, in order to maximize the specificity of the case definition. Secondary case definitions allow inclusion of co-morbidities and/or allow for the presence of parasitaemia at any density. The programmatic implementation of standardized case assessment included a clinical algorithm for evaluating seriously sick children, improvements to care delivery and a robust training and evaluation programme for clinicians.
Conclusions: The case definition developed for the pivotal phase III RTS, S vaccine study is consistent with WHO recommendations, is locally applicable and appropriately balances sensitivity and specificity in the diagnosis of severe malaria. Processes set up to standardize severe malaria data collection will allow robust assessment of the efficacy of the RTS, S vaccine against severe malaria, strengthen local capacity and benefit patient care for subjects in the trial.