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Volume 3 (2003), Pages 721-730
Research Article

Prevalence of Childhood Illnesses and Care-Seeking Practices in Rural Uganda

Department of Community Health, Ministry of Health, P.O. Box 7272 Kampala, Uganda

Academic Editor: Joav Merrick

Copyright © 2003 Anthony K. Mbonye.


There is a declining trend of child health indicators in Uganda despite intensified program efforts to improve child care. For example, the infant mortality rate increased from 81/1,000 in 1995 to 88/1,000 in the year 2000. This paper presents results of a study that assessed factors responsible for this trend. The objectives were to assess the prevalence of childhood illnesses and care-seeking practices for children with fever, diarrhea, and upper respiratory tract infections (URTI) in the Sembabule district of Central Uganda. A cross-sectional survey, using a WHO 30 cluster-sampling technique, was used to obtain data from 300 women with children aged less than 2 years. Prevalence of childhood illnesses and care-seeking practices were obtained using a structured questionnaire supplemented by in-depth interviews. The results showed that the 300 women interviewed had 323 children of whom 37.9% had an episode of fever 2 weeks before the survey, 40.3% had diarrhea, 37.4% had URTI, and 26.8% were fully immunized. Most of the women, 82.7%, perceived fever as the most serious health problem to their children. URTI, diarrhea, and measles were perceived as serious by a lower proportion of women. Although this study showed high perceptions of childhood diseases, the proportion of mothers seeking care for sick children was low, indicating that there are barriers to accessing care. For example, 44.7% of women sought care when their children had fever, 35.0% when children had URTI, and 31.3% when children had diarrhea. However, most children with fever, diarrhea, and URTI were treated at home and taken to health units only when they developed life-threatening symptoms. This late referral to health units was complicated by high costs of care, long distances to health units, poor attitude of health workers, lack of drugs at health units, and limited involvement of fathers in care of the children.The results of this study showed that although the perceptions of childhood diseases were high, the care-seeking practices were poor. In order to improve child care in this district, there is a need to address barriers to quality of care and to conduct further research to assess the role of cultural factors and male involvement in child care.