2. Malaria Alert Center, University of Malawi College of Medicine, Blantyre, Malawi.
3. Department of Statistics, University of Namibia, Windhoek, Namibia.
4. Center for Vaccine Development and Global Health, University of Maryland School of Medicine, Baltimore, USA.
5. Oxford Centre for Tropical Medicine and Global Health, Oxford, United Kingdom.
6. Mahidol-Oxford Tropical Medicine Research Unit, Bangkok, Thailand.
7. Department of Biostatistics, Center for AIDS Research (CFAR), University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, North Carolina, USA.
Background: In malaria endemic areas such as sub-Saharan Africa, repeated exposure to malaria results in acquired immunity to clinical disease but not infection. In prospective studies, time-to-clinical malaria and longitudinal parasite count trajectory are often analysed separately which may result in inefficient estimates since these two processes can be associated. Including parasite count as a time-dependent covariate in a model of time-to-clinical malaria episode may also be inaccurate because while clinical malaria disease frequently leads to treatment which may instantly affect the level of parasite count, standard time-to-event models require that time-dependent covariates be external to the event process. We investigated whether jointly modelling time-to-clinical malaria disease and longitudinal parasite count improves precision in risk factor estimates and assessed the strength of association between the hazard of clinical malaria and parasite count.
Methods: Using a cohort data of participants enrolled with uncomplicated malaria in Malawi, a conventional Cox Proportional Hazards (PH) model of time-to-first clinical malaria episode with time-dependent parasite count was compared with three competing joint models. The joint models had different association structures linking a quasi-Poisson mixed-effects of parasite count and event-time Cox PH sub-models.
Results: There were 120 participants of whom 115 (95.8%) had >1 follow-up visit and 100 (87.5%) experienced the episode. Adults >15 years being reference, log hazard ratio for children <5 years was 0.74 (95% CI: 0.17, 1.26) in the joint model with best fit vs. 0.62 (95% CI: 0.04, 1.18) from the conventional Cox PH model. The log hazard ratio for the 5-15 years was 0.72 (95% CI: 0.22, 1.22) in the joint model vs.0.63 (95% CI: 0.11, 1.17) in the Cox PH model. The area under parasite count trajectory was strongly associated with the risk of clinical malaria, with a unit increase corresponding to -0.0012 (95% CI: -0.0021, -0.0004) decrease in log hazard ratio.
Conclusion: Jointly modelling longitudinal parasite count and time-to-clinical malaria disease improves precision in log hazard ratio estimates compared to conventional time-dependent Cox PH model. The improved precision of joint modelling may improve study efficiency and allow for design of clinical trials with relatively lower sample sizes with increased power.
Keywords: Prospective studies, longitudinal data, malaria parasite, time-to-event, clinical malaria, Cox proportional hazards model, joint modelling