Theory-based formative research on oral rehydration salts and zinc use in Lusaka, Zambia

BMC Public Health. 2016 Apr 12;16:312. doi: 10.1186/s12889-016-2984-2.


Background: A theoretically grounded formative research study was carried out to investigate behaviour related to the use of Oral Rehydration Salts (ORS) and zinc tablets. The purpose was to inform the design of the behaviour change component of the Programme for Awareness and Elimination of Diarrhoea in Lusaka Province, Zambia, which aims to reduce childhood morbidity and mortality from diarrhoeal disease.

Methods: Fourteen behaviour trials were conducted among caregivers of children under-five with diarrhoea. Caregivers were recruited from two clinics situated in rural and peri-urban Lusaka. Trials took ten days and data were captured using video, observation and repeated interviews. Additional data were collected through focus group discussions with mothers, observations in clinics and pharmacies and interviews with clinic and pharmacy staff. Findings were organised according to categories of behavioural determinants from Evo-Eco theory.

Results: Participants were all familiar with ORS and most knew its purpose. ORS use was motivated by symptoms of dehydration, rather than the start of a diarrhoea episode, and was stopped when the child had visibly recovered energy. Only four of 14 behaviour trial participants were observed to correctly prepare ORS. Errors were mainly associated with measurement, resulting in a solution that was too concentrated. ORS was not observed to be given to children at clinics. Although zinc was unknown in this population, it was positively received by mothers keen to learn whether zinc would work better than alternative treatments to stop diarrhoea.

Conclusions: ORS was sub-optimally prepared and used at home. It was not used while waiting to be seen at a clinic. In homes, the behaviour change intervention should promote early and continued use of correctly prepared ORS. In the longer-term, these behaviours may best be encouraged by changing the product design or sachet size. Despite its unfamiliarity, this population was well disposed to the use of zinc as a treatment for diarrhoea; when zinc is new to a population, promoting zinc as a solution to stopping diarrhoea, which mothers seek, may drive initial trial. Ensuring the availability of zinc in public clinics and private pharmacies prior to commencement of any promotion activities is crucial.

Keywords: Behaviour centred design; Diarrhoea prevention; Formative research; Intervention design; Oral rehydration; Zinc.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Caregivers / psychology
  • Caregivers / statistics & numerical data
  • Child, Preschool
  • Dehydration / psychology
  • Dehydration / therapy
  • Diarrhea / therapy*
  • Female
  • Fluid Therapy / methods*
  • Grounded Theory
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Mothers / psychology
  • Mothers / statistics & numerical data
  • Motivation
  • Pharmacies
  • Qualitative Research
  • Rehydration Solutions / therapeutic use*
  • Salts / therapeutic use*
  • Young Adult
  • Zambia
  • Zinc / therapeutic use*


  • Rehydration Solutions
  • Salts
  • Zinc