"I thought it was only ordinary fever!" cultural knowledge and the micropolitics of therapy seeking for childhood febrile illness in Tanzania

Soc Sci Med. 2006 Jun;62(12):2945-59. doi: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2005.11.042. Epub 2006 Jan 5.


Economic considerations are often cited as important determinants of health-seeking behavior. This paper describes a situation in peri-urban Tanzania where user fees do not constitute the primary reason why mothers delay seeking prompt treatment at a public health facility for their young, febrile children. Mothers commonly believe that they are dealing with an ordinary fever and not malaria or any other serious illness complicated by fever. Hence, they engage in extended home-based treatment. Drawing upon an ethnographic study, this paper illustrates how cultural knowledge about disease symptomatology, cultural meanings associated with febrile illness, gender relations, and patterns of communication between health care providers and mothers significantly influence outcomes for childhood febrile illnesses. It is argued that an overemphasis on the correlation between user fees and treatment delays with regard to childhood illnesses tends to divert attention from other significant cultural factors and existing structural constraints that influence the dynamics of health care seeking and health outcomes. At a time when calls to implement artemisinine-based combination therapy as one of the front-line strategies in Tanzania are increasingly frequent, there is a need to pay closer attention to the contextual factors and socio-cultural dynamics that influence patterns of treatment-seeking for childhood malaria.

Publication types

  • Case Reports
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Acute Disease
  • Adult
  • Antimalarials / economics
  • Antimalarials / therapeutic use
  • Child, Preschool
  • Communication
  • Community Health Centers / standards
  • Diagnostic Errors
  • Female
  • Fever / diagnosis*
  • Fever / etiology
  • Health Care Surveys
  • Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice*
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Malaria / complications
  • Malaria / diagnosis*
  • Malaria / drug therapy
  • Male
  • Mothers / education
  • Mothers / psychology*
  • Patient Acceptance of Health Care / ethnology*
  • Pharmacies / standards
  • Professional-Patient Relations
  • Tanzania
  • Time Factors
  • Urban Population


  • Antimalarials