Background & objectives: Against the backdrop of insufficient public supply of primary care and reports of informal providers, the present study sought to collect descriptive evidence on 1 st contact curative health care seeking choices among rural communities in two States of India - Andhra Pradesh (AP) and Orissa.
Methods: The cross-sectional study design combined a Household Survey (1,810 households in AP; 5,342 in Orissa), 48 Focus Group Discussions (19 in AP; 29 in Orissa), and 61 Key Informant Interviews with healthcare providers (22 in AP; 39 in Orissa).
Results: In AP, 69.5 per cent of respondents accessed non-degree allopathic practitioners (NDAPs) practicing in or near their village; in Orissa, 40.2 per cent chose first curative contact with NDAPs and 36.2 per cent with traditional healers. In AP, all NDAPs were private practitioners, in Orissa some pharmacists and nurses employed in health facilities, also practiced privately. Respondents explained their choice by proximity and providers' readiness to make house-calls when needed. Less than a quarter of respondents chose qualified doctors as their first point of call: mostly private practitioners in AP, and public practitioners in Orissa. Amongst those who chose a qualified practitioner, the most frequent reason was doctors' quality rather than proximity.
Interpretation & conclusions: The results of this study show that most rural persons seek first level of curative healthcare close to home, and pay for a composite convenient service of consulting-cum-dispensing of medicines. NDAPs fill a huge demand for primary curative care which the public system does not satisfy, and are the de facto first level access in most cases.