Background: Pneumonia, diarrhoea, and malaria are among the leading causes of death in children. These deaths are largely preventable if appropriate care is sought early. This review aimed to determine the percentage of caregivers in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) with a child less than 5 years who were able to recognise illness in their child and subsequently sought care from different types of healthcare providers.
Methods and findings: We conducted a systematic literature review of studies that reported recognition of, and/or care seeking for episodes of diarrhoea, pneumonia or malaria in LMICs. The review is registered with PROSPERO (registration number: CRD42011001654). Ninety-one studies met the inclusion criteria. Eighteen studies reported data on caregiver recognition of disease and seventy-seven studies on care seeking. The median sensitivity of recognition of diarrhoea, malaria and pneumonia was low (36.0%, 37.4%, and 45.8%, respectively). A median of 73.0% of caregivers sought care outside the home. Care seeking from community health workers (median: 5.4% for diarrhoea, 4.2% for pneumonia, and 1.3% for malaria) and the use of oral rehydration therapy (median: 34%) was low.
Conclusions: Given the importance of this topic to child survival programmes there are few published studies. Recognition of diarrhoea, malaria and pneumonia by caregivers is generally poor and represents a key factor to address in attempts to improve health care utilisation. In addition, considering that oral rehydration therapy has been widely recommended for over forty years, its use remains disappointingly low. Similarly, the reported levels of care seeking from community health workers in the included studies are low even though global action plans to address these illnesses promote community case management. Giving greater priority to research on care seeking could provide crucial evidence to inform child mortality programmes.