Background: Prompt access to effective treatment for malaria is unacceptably low in Malawi. Less than 20% of children under the age of five with fever receive appropriate anti-malarial treatment within 24 hours of fever onset. This study assessed socio-cultural factors associated with delayed treatment of children with fever in Mwanza district, Malawi.
Methodology: It was a qualitative study using focus group discussions and key informant interviews.
Results: A total of 151 caregivers and 46 health workers participated in the focus group discussions. The majority of caregivers were able to recognize fever and link it to malaria. Despite high knowledge of malaria, prompt treatment and health-seeking behaviour were poor, with the majority of children first being managed at home with treatment regimens other than effective anti-malarials. Traditional beliefs about causes of fever, unavailability of anti-malarial drugs within the community, barriers to accessing the formal health care system, and trust in traditional medicine were all associated with delays in seeking appropriate treatment for fever.
Conclusion: The study has demonstrated important social cultural factors that negatively influence for caregivers of children under five. To facilitate prompt and appropriate health-seeking behaviour, behavioral change messages must address the prevailing local beliefs about causes of fever and the socio-economic barriers to accessing health care.