Addressing the COVID-19 pandemic challenges for operational adaptations of a cluster randomized controlled trial on dengue vector control in Malaysia

06 Apr 2022
Mitra Saadatian-Elahi, Neal Alexander, Tim Möhlmann, Farah Diana Ariffin, Frederic Schmitt, Jason H. Richardson, Muriel Rabilloud & Nurulhusna Ab Hamid


The COVID-19 pandemic placed an unprecedented overload on healthcare system globally. With all medical resources being dedicated to contain the spread of the disease, the pandemic may have impacted the burden of other infectious diseases such as dengue, particularly in countries endemic for dengue fever. Indeed, the co‐occurrence of COVID‐19 made dengue diagnosis challenging because of some shared clinical manifestations between the two pathogens. Furthermore, the sudden emergence and novelty of this global public health crisis has forced the suspension or slow-down of several research trials due to the lack of sufficient knowledge on how to handle the continuity of research trials during the pandemic. We report on challenges we have faced during the COVID-19 pandemic and measures that were implemented to continue the iDEM project (intervention for Dengue Epidemiology in Malaysia).


This randomized controlled trial aims to assess the effectiveness of Integrated Vector Management (IVM) on the incidence of dengue in urban Malaysia by combining: targeted outdoor residual spraying (TORS), deployment of auto-dissemination devices (ADDs), and active community engagement (CE). Our operational activities started on February 10, 2020, a few weeks before the implementation of non-pharmaceutical interventions to contain the spread of COVID-19 in Malaysia.


The three main issues affecting the continuity of the trial were: ensuring the safety of field workers during the interventions; ensuring the planned turnover of TORS application and ADD deployment and services; and maintaining the CE activities as far as possible.


Even though the pandemic has created monumental challenges, we ensured the safety of field workers by providing complete personal protective equipment and regular COVID-19 testing. Albeit with delay, we maintained the planned interval time between TORS application and ADDs services by overlapping the intervention cycles instead of having them in a sequential scheme. CE activities continued remotely through several channels (e.g., phone calls and text messages). Sustained efforts of the management team, significant involvement of the Malaysian Ministry of Health and a quick and smart adaptation of the trial organisation according to the pandemic situation were the main factors that allowed the successful continuation of our research.