Background: Community distribution of anti-malarials and antibiotics has been recommended as a strategy to reduce the under-five mortality due to febrile illnesses in sub-Saharan Africa. However, drugs distributed in these interventions have been considered weak by some caretakers and utilization of community medicine distributors has been low. The aim of the study was to explore caretakers' use of drugs, perceptions of drug efficacy and preferred providers for febrile children in order to make suggestions for community management of pneumonia and malaria.
Methods: The study was conducted in eastern Uganda using four focus group discussions with fathers and mothers of children under five; and eight key informant interviews with health workers in government and non-governmental organization facilities, community medicine distributors, and attendants in drug shops and private clinics. Caretakers were asked the drugs they use for treatment of fever, why they considered them efficacious, and the providers they go to and why they go there. Health providers were interviewed on their opinions of caretakers' perceptions of drugs and providers. Analysis was done using content analysis.
Results: Drugs that have been phased out as first-line treatment for malaria, such as chloroquine and sulphadoxine/pyrimethamine, are still perceived as efficacious. Use of drugs depended on perception of the disease, cost and drug availability. There were divergent views about drug efficacy concerning drug combinations, side effects, packaging, or using drugs over time. Bitter taste and high cost signified high efficacy for anti-malarials. Government facilities were preferred for conducting diagnostic investigations and attending to serious illnesses, but often lacked drugs and did not treat people fast. Drug shops were preferred for having a variety of drugs, attending to clients promptly and offering treatment on credit. However, drug shops were considered disadvantageous since they lacked diagnostic capability and had unqualified providers.
Conclusion: Community views about drug efficacy are divergent and some may divert caretakers from obtaining efficacious drugs for febrile illness. Interventions should address these perceptions, equip community medicine distributors with capacity to do diagnostic investigations and provide a constant supply of drugs. Subsidized efficacious drugs could be made available in the private sector.