Factors associated with late presentation of children under five and pregnant women with malaria for treatment at health units in Bungokho Health Sub District
Kamaranzi, Bakunda Kaakaabaale
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Background: Malaria is the leading cause of death of Uganda's children under 5 years of age and the number-one cause of illness in adults in Uganda. The success of malaria treatment strategies is closely linked to the behavior of patients and caretakers of young children. In the case of malaria this includes accessing appropriate treatment for suspected malaria in time. In Bungokho Sub County, in spite of the efforts by district health workers and the Ministry of Health to implement the malaria control, prevention and treatment strategies, pregnant women and caretakers of children under 5 years of age continue to present late for treatment in the health units resulting in possible avoidable death or disability. Aim and objectives: The aim of this study was to explore the factors that lead to late presentation of children and pregnant women with malaria for treatment at health units. This was done by exploring the perceptions of caregivers of children under five years and pregnant women on the community knowledge and understanding of the symptoms and treatment of malaria; and describing perceptions of caregivers and pregnant women on health care provision at the health units and alternative treatment for malaria. Methods :The study was conducted in Bungokho Health sub-district, in Mbale district, Eastern Uganda over a two month period in 2009. It was a descriptive exploratory study using qualitative research methods. Four focus groups were carried out, two with caregivers of children under 5 years and two with pregnant women, with each focus group consisting of eight participants. Two caregivers and two pregnant women were identified from the focus groups for further indepth interviews. Four in-depth interviews were conducted with health unit staff from Bungokho HCVI. Notes were taken and observations made during the focus groups and interviews. The proceedings were audio-taped and recordings used to expand and clarify notes. Thematic content analysis was used to analyze the data and identify recurrent themes from the focus group discussions and interviews of the reasons for late presentation for malaria treatment. Results: All caregivers were women, a significant majority of whom were peasants who had not gone beyond the primary education. Caregivers were aware of the general symptoms of malaria but associated more serious or dangerous symptoms with other causes including witchcraft. Pregnant women, on the other hand, seemed to have sound knowledge of both the general and dangerous symptoms of malaria and were likely to attend the health units timeously for reatment. Religious beliefs and practices, particularly belief in the healing ability of prayers prevented early reporting of malaria cases to health units leading to late presentation. Alternative treatment of malaria from traditional herbalists was also sought by the communities particularly when the intensity of malaria was at its peak during the rainy season. Poverty in the community seemed to play a big role in shaping community preference for treatment sources, as well as early presentation to the health units. It was found that the anticipated cost of laboratory tests and sundries at the health units deterred caregivers from taking children under five to health units. There was therefore a strong reliance (and preference for) community medicine distributor's (CMDs) because of free services and easy access. Lack of support from spouses (in particular husbands) coupled with the rude behavior of health workers towards caregivers and pregnant women discouraged visits to health units. The long waiting time and intermittent drug stock-outs also created a negative perception of service at the health units. Conclusions and recommendations: There is need for further sensitization of communities on the need to seek prompt treatment for children under five years of age at the health units (that is, within 24 hours of the onset of fever). Training and supervision of CMDs should be strengthened to ensure consistent supply of drugs, correct dosage of anti-malarial medication and improvements in the referrals to the health units. In order to improve service delivery at the health units, there is need to review and strengthen human resource management of the health units, including staffing requirements and management practices, such as support and supervision, patient care standards and client feedback mechanisms. It is also important that there are adequate stocks of anti-malarial drugs and laboratory supplies at health units.