The seeking of healthcare for childhood illnesses was studied in three rural Nigerian communities of approximately 10 000 population each. The aim was to provide a baseline understanding of illness behaviour on which to build a programme for the promotion of prepackaged chloroquine and cotrimoxazole for early and appropriate treatment of childhood fevers at the community level. A total of 3117 parents of children who had been ill during the 2 weeks prior to interview responded to questions about the nature of the illness and the actions taken. Local illness terms were elicited, and the most prevalent recent illness and the actions taken. Local illness terms were elicited, and the most prevalent recent illnesses were 'hot body' (43.9 per cent), malaria, known as iba (17.7 per cent), and cough (7.4 per cent). The most common form of first-line treatment was drugs from a patent medicine vendor or drug hawker (49.6 per cent). Only 3.6 per cent did nothing. Most who sought care (77.5 per cent) were satisfied with their first line of action, and did not seek further treatment. The average cost of an illness episode was less than US$2.00 with a median of US$1.00. Specifically, chloroquine tablets cost an average of US 29¢ per course. Analysis found a configuration of signs and symptoms associated with chloroquine use, to include perception of the child having malaria, high temperature and loss of appetite. The configuration positively associated with antibiotic use consisted of cough and difficult breathing. The ability of the child's care-givers, both parental and professional, to make these distinctions in medication use will provide the foundation for health education in the promotion of appropriate early treatment of childhood fevers in the three study sites.
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