Background: Accurate data on care-seeking for child illness are needed to improve public health programs and reduce child mortality. The accuracy of maternal report of care-seeking for child illness as collected through household surveys has not been validated.
Methods: A 2016 survey compared reported care-seeking against a gold-standard of health care provider documented care-seeking events among a random sample of mothers of children <5 years in Southern Province, Zambia. Enrolled children were assigned cards with unique barcodes. Seventy-five health care providers were given smartphones with a barcode reader and instructed to scan the cards of participating children seeking care at the source, generating an electronic record of the care-seeking event. Additionally, providers gave all caregivers accessing care for a child <5 years provider-specific tokens used to verify the point of care during the household survey. Reported care-seeking events were ascertained in each household using a questionnaire modeled off the Zambia Demographic and Health Survey (DHS) / Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey (MICS). The accuracy of maternal report of care-seeking behavior was estimated by comparing care-seeking events reported by mothers against provider-documented events.
Results: Data were collected on 384 children with fever, diarrhea, and/or symptoms of ARI in the preceding 2 weeks. Most children sought care from government facilities or community-based agents (CBAs). We found high sensitivity (Rural: 0.91, 95% confidence interval CI 0.84-0.95; Urban: 0.98, 95% CI 0.92-0.99) and reasonable specificity (Rural: 0.71, 95% CI 0.57-0.82; Urban: 0.76, 95% CI 0.62-0.85) of maternal report of care-seeking for child illness by type of provider. Maternal report of any care-seeking and seeking care from a skilled provider had slightly higher sensitivity and specificity. Seeking care from a traditional practitioner was associated with lower odds of accurately reporting the event, while seeking care from a government provider was associated with greater odds of accurate report. The measure resulted in a slight overestimation of true care-seeking behavior in the study population.
Conclusions: Maternal report is a valid measure of care-seeking for child illness in settings with high utilization of public sector providers. The study findings were limited by the low diversity in care-seeking practices for child illness and the exclusion of shops.