Rational use of antibiotics by community health workers and caregivers for children with suspected pneumonia in Zambia: a cross-sectional mixed methods study

BMC Public Health. 2016 Aug 27;16(1):897. doi: 10.1186/s12889-016-3541-8.


Background: Antibiotic resistance is an issue of growing global concern. One key strategy to minimise further development of resistance is the rational use of antibiotics, by providers and patients alike. Through integrated community case management (iCCM), children diagnosed with suspected pneumonia are treated with antibiotics; one component of an essential package to reduce child mortality and increase access to health care for remote populations. Through the use of clinical algorithms, supportive supervision and training, iCCM also offers the opportunity to improve the rational use of antibiotics and limit the spread of resistance in resource-poor contexts. This study provides evidence on antibiotic use by community health workers (CHWs) and caregivers to inform iCCM programmes, safeguarding current treatments whilst maximising access to care.

Methods: 1497 CHW consultations were directly observed by non-clinical researchers, with measurement of respiratory rate by CHWs recorded by video. Videos were used to conduct a retrospective reference standard assessment of respiratory rate by experts. Fifty-five caregivers whose children were prescribed a 5-day course of antibiotics for suspected pneumonia were followed up on day six to assess adherence through structured interviews and pill counts. Six focus group discussions and nine in depth interviews were conducted with CHWs and caregivers to supplement quantitative findings.

Results: The findings indicate that CHWs adhered to treatment guidelines for 92 % of children seen, prescribing treatment corresponding to their assessment. However, only 65 % of antibiotics prescribed were given for children with experts' confirmed fast breathing pneumonia. Qualitative data indicates that CHWs have a good understanding of pneumonia diagnosis, and although caregivers sometimes applied pressure to receive drugs, CHWs stated that treatment decisions were not influenced. 46 % of caregivers were fully adherent and gave their child the full 5-day course of dispersible amoxicillin. If caregivers who gave treatment for 3 to 5 days were considered, adherence increased to 76 %.

Conclusions: CHWs are capable of prescribing treatment corresponding to their assessment of respiratory rate. However, rational use of antibiotics could be strengthened through improved respiratory rate assessment, and better diagnostic tools. Furthermore, a shorter course of dispersible amoxicillin could potentially improve caregiver adherence, reducing risk of resistance and cost.

Keywords: Adherence; Antibiotics; COMDIS-HSD; Caregivers; Community health workers; Integrated community case management; Malaria Consortium; Pneumonia; Rational use.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Amoxicillin / therapeutic use
  • Anti-Bacterial Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Caregivers*
  • Case Management / organization & administration
  • Child, Preschool
  • Community Health Workers* / organization & administration
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Drug Resistance, Microbial*
  • Female
  • Guideline Adherence*
  • Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice*
  • Humans
  • Malaria / diagnosis
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Parents
  • Pneumonia* / diagnosis
  • Pneumonia* / drug therapy
  • Referral and Consultation
  • Residence Characteristics
  • Respiration
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Zambia


  • Anti-Bacterial Agents
  • Amoxicillin