Acute respiratory illness: popular health culture and mother's knowledge in the Philippines

Med Anthropol. 1994 May;15(4):353-75. doi: 10.1080/01459740.1994.9966099.


Acute respiratory infection (ARI) is one of the chief causes of morbidity and mortality in the third world. This ethnographic study of ARI in the Philippines draws attention to local knowledge, sign recognition, perceptions of severity, and cultural factors influencing health care seeking. The mix of research methods used to generate data on these issues is discussed.

PIP: In Oriental Mindoro in the Philippines, interviews with mothers in clinics and focus groups using short videos of children with acute respiratory infection (ARI) were conducted to examine ARI knowledge, recognition of signs and symptoms, perception of severity, home management, and health care seeking behavior. Even though mothers said that they used home treatment for 3 days at the onset of an illness, they often waited 5-7 days after signs of illness appeared. Mothers, many of whom were poor, sought care from traditional practitioners for a broad range of ARIs. A group of local terms for ARI overlapped with biomedical terms of ARI, but the overlap did not directly correspond. For example, tuspirina sometimes, but not always, referred to pertussis. Few mothers knew that a vaccination protects against tuspirina. Health education programs need to use local names. Most mothers knew that noisy, difficult breathing signifies ARI. Many mothers could tell the difference between a wheeze and grunting in the chest and noisy breathing coming from the throat. They rarely reported fast breathing and indrawn chest as symptoms. Mothers often determined the severity of illness by fever. Health educators need to focus on rapid breathing and chest indrawing with or without fever. Even though the people focused on factors making people vulnerable to illness, they tended to use biomedicine when ill. Health educators need to focus on ARI treatment with or subsequent to rashes and measles because mothers delayed treatment for pneumonia until a rash appeared or they believed pneumonia ran its course. The mothers were very interested in learning more about ARI. The methods used in this study generated significant data on popular health culture and ARI.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Acute Disease
  • Adult
  • Anthropology, Cultural
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Female
  • Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice*
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Male
  • Medicine, Traditional*
  • Mothers / psychology*
  • Philippines
  • Respiratory Tract Diseases / psychology*
  • Respiratory Tract Diseases / therapy