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Care-seeking behaviour and implications for malaria control in Southern Malawi

Masangwi, Salule Joseph and Ferguson, Neil and Grimason, Anthony and Kazembe, L.N. and Morse, T.D. (2010) Care-seeking behaviour and implications for malaria control in Southern Malawi. Southern African Journal of Epidemiology and Infection, 25 (4). pp. 22-26. ISSN 1015-8782

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Although malaria is a controllable and preventable disease, it remains among the leading causes of mortality and morbidity in southern Malawi. The importance of early diagnosis and prompt treatment with hospital prescribed drugs and effective home management to control malaria is well established; however, these in part depend on how households make their decisions when family members have suffered from malaria. This study examines the behaviour of households with regard to decisions they make in managing malaria illness. Using hierarchically built data from a survey of 1,400 mothers nested within 33 communities, a series of two-level logistic regression models with Bayesian estimation was used to determine predictors of care-seeking behaviour towards malaria when a family member or a child was perceived to have malaria. The results show that most families normally visit or use medication prescribed at health facilities for both adult (80%) and child (86%) members when they are perceived to have malaria. The main obstacle to accessing the nearest health facility was distance and transport costs (73%) and the main problems encountered at health facilities were long waiting time or absence of health workers (73%) and shortage of drugs (35%). Among the main predictor variables for choices of treatment for childhood malaria was the absence of a health surveillance assistant for those that visited hospitals [β=0.56; 95% CI:-0.86,-0.26]; bought medication from open markets [β=0.51; 95% CI:0.20,0.82]; and those that used other traditional methods or did nothing [β=0.70; 95% CI:-0.04,1.44; p=0.06].. The results have an important role to play in the control and prevention of malaria in Malawi. The results reveal the need for increased awareness about the dangers of purchasing drugs from non-medical and/or uncertified private institutions and sources such as those found in open markets. They also show the important role of community health workers in the delivery of health systems. The study recommends empowerment of community health workers through rigorous and relevant health promotion programmes to update both their knowledge and their skills in communication and counselling.