What people do when they have symptoms or suspicion of a sexually transmitted disease (STD) has major implications for transmission and, consequently, for disease control. Delays in seeking and obtaining diagnosis and treatment can allow for continued transmission and the greater probability of adverse sequelae. An understanding of health seeking behaviour is therefore important if STD control programmes are to be effective. However, taboos and stigma related to sex and STD in most cultures mean that gaining a true picture is difficult and requires considerable cultural sensitivity. At the moment relatively little is known about who people turn to for advice, or about how symptoms are perceived, recognized or related to decisions to seek help. It is argued that such knowledge would assist programme planners in the development of more accessible and effective services, that studies of health seeking behaviour need to include a combination of qualitative and quantitative methods, and that studies should include data collection about people who do not present to health care facilities as well as those who do. A pilot protocol for studying STD-related health seeking behaviour in developing countries is briefly presented.
PIP: People with symptoms of sexually transmitted disease (STD) or who merely suspect that they have a STD may in fact be infected. Those who delay having the existence of STD confirmed and treated, yet continue to engage in sexual intercourse, can spread their disease to sex partners. Efforts must be made to understand health seeking behavior when designing and implementing effective STD control programs. However, taboos and stigma related to sex and STDs in most cultures make it difficult to uncover the true nature of such behavior. Relatively little is therefore known about to whom people turn for advice or about how symptoms are perceived, recognized, or related to decisions to seek help. The authors argue that such knowledge would help program planners in the development of more effective and accessible services. Furthermore, studies of health seeking behavior should include a combination of qualitative and quantitative methods, as well as data collection on people who present to health care facilities and those who do not. A pilot protocol for studying STD-related health seeking behavior in developing countries is presented.