Background: Access to essential clinical services offered by district hospitals or health centres forms an important component of primary health care activities in the developing world. Utilization of hospital facilities during life-threatening childhood illnesses will affect survivorship.
Methods: We have examined clinical, geographical, social, economic and demographic features of families of 49 children who consulted a hospital facility during a terminal illness and 88 who did not during a 1-year prospective demographic and hospital-based surveillance of a rural community on the Kenyan Coast.
Results: Of children who died without admission, 15% had symptoms which lasted only 1 day compared to no children who were admitted (P = 0.004). Furthermore, those who died without admission tended to live further away from the nearest bus stage (P = 0.01) and had made greater use of traditional healers (P = 0.08). Mothers' education or household socioeconomic status did not influence admission to hospital.
Conclusion: Health education is required to improve early recognition of clinical signs warranting hospital care and traditional healers should be included in any community-based education programmes.