Aims: To explore the role of a traditional illness of the newborn, asram, in care-seeking in rural Ghana.
Methods: Data are from formative research into newborn care which included collecting qualitative data from 14 villages in Brong Ahafo region of Ghana through 25 birth narratives, 30 in-depth interviews and two focus groups with recently delivered/pregnant women, 20 in-depth interviews and six focus groups with birth attendants/grandmothers, 12 in-depth interviews and two focus groups with husbands, and six in-depth interviews with asram healers.
Results: The study confirmed that asram is characterised by symptoms which include green/black veins, a big head and the newborn growing lean. However, a complex classification of 14 types of asram covering a wide array of symptoms was identified. Asram was perceived as a common illness which cannot be treated at health facilities and to which many danger signs in the newborn are attributed, and thus it affects care-seeking. Asram treatment includes frequent cold herbal baths and air-drying; however, oral treatments and preventive bathing are also used. Any modification of asram treatment was reported to require the sanction of a healer.
Conclusion: Understanding traditional illnesses as a potential barrier to newborn care-seeking is essential for designing care-seeking interventions. An asram diagnosis can prevent sick newborns being taken to health facilities and traditional treatment exposes them to the risk of hypothermia.