This is the first study describing factors associated with care-seeking behaviour for fever in Mozambique. In this study the pattern of care-seeking for fever and its predictors among children under 5 years of age were investigated. The study data showed that despite the fact that the percentage of children with fever doubled from 13.7% in 2011 DHS to 27.2% in 2015 IMASIDA, care-seeking remained stable at 63% in this period. This figure is lower than the 70% defined by Mozambique’s National Malaria Control Program . This finding is alarming, given that malaria is a major cause of fever in children in Mozambique and prompt care-seeking is necessary to reduce morbidity and mortality . These data suggest that social and behaviour change communication directed to improving care-seeking efforts should be intensified.
The percentage of children for whom care was not sought, found in both surveys, was similar to what was reported in a study conducted in Senegal, in which 37% of children with fever did not receive any treatment or medical advice . However, this figure is higher than what was reported in a study in Nigeria where care was not sought for 23% of the children . The study carried out in Senegal showed that short duration of fever and rapid recovery from the disease were associated with not seeking care for fever . However, in both 2011 DHS and 2015 IMASIDA, the duration of fever and severity of the disease were not documented and for this reason, any assumption on the relationship between care-seeking and the duration and severity of the febrile illness can’t be made.
This results clearly demonstrate important differences in care-seeking for fever by geographic region. Of note, Zambézia which is the province with highest malaria prevalence in the country and the second most populous province in the country, had one of the lowest reported care-seeking behaviours for fever. This low care-seeking in Zambézia has previously been found in a study on care-seeking behaviour for any disease or wound in any age . The report also showed that the satisfaction with health services in the province of Zambézia was the lowest, compared to all other provinces in the country (44.5%) . These findings may indicate that patient satisfaction with health services plays an important role on care-seeking behavioural outcome. Thus, Zambézia province may need further investments, not only in malaria control interventions but also in the quality of services provided in order to improve care-seeking for fever.
Higher care-seeking rates in the southern region of Mozambique might partially be related to the fact that literacy and access to medical services in the southern region is also higher . This suggests that investments in social determinants of health and health systems pillars should also be considered in order to improve care-seeking for fever. Yet, despite having the highest access to health facilities (96.4%) , Maputo City has low care-seeking for fever. This might be associated with self-medication.
In Mozambique care for fever was mostly sought at public hospitals. This finding is different from Zambia where most of the caretakers sought treatment of fever for their children from CHW, friends, relatives, traditional healers or spiritualists , and from India, where traditional healers were the first choice . This preference for public services should continue to be reinforced as the standard of care for diagnostic and treatment in public health facilities is good and malaria tests and treatments are provided for free. Although the CHW were the second place where care was most sought, and it did not increase significantly from 2011 to 2015, and was less frequent than what was reported in Zambia  and in India . The fact that the proportion of people seeking care from CHWs remained almost stable from 2011 to 2015, 5.2% and 6.6%, respectively, is a surprising and concerning finding. For instance, in 2010 the Ministry of Health (MoH) started a process of expanding and improving its CHW programme, and the number of trained CHWs increased significantly during the period of the two surveys . These suggests that more work is needed to improve utilization of the services provided by CHWs.
Data from 2015 IMASIDA showed that mother’s education was positively associated with care-seeking behaviour, as has been shown in other studies [17, 23, 33]. Mothers with secondary level of education were more likely to seek care than mothers with a lower education level. This lower care-seeking behaviour for fever among mother’s with low level of education can be explained by their lower awareness about etiology, prevention, diagnostics, treatment and complications of malaria [17, 33]. Despite evidence that care-seeking has been positively associated with knowledge and awareness , results from this study showed that mothers with the highest level of education were less likely to seek care. It is possible that because highly educated mothers have grater health literacy they rely more on self-treatment. These results also show that the association between mother’s education and care-seeking behaviour is complex. In fact, some studies failed to find any association between mother’s education and care-seeking behaviour for fever .
Care-seeking behaviour for fever was also associated with place of residence. Caretakers from rural areas were less likely to seek care for febrile children than those from urban areas. Similar findings have been reported in previous studies conducted in other sub Saharan Africa countries [16, 19, 34]. This was an expected finding as access to care is known to be lower in rural areas of Mozambique as compared to urban areas and people living in rural area usually travel long distances to reach health facilities .
Wealth of the caregiver was also associated with care-seeking behaviour for fever, a finding similar to other settings [17, 24]. Caretakers from the poorer quintile were more likely to seek care than the caretakers from the poorest quintile. This difference can be explained by lower access to health services among caregivers from the poorest quintile, as described in other settings .
Despite the better access and conditions found in Maputo City, care-seeking was higher in other provinces like Manica, Sofala, Inhambane, Gaza and Maputo province than in Maputo City, which might be not only associated with the self-medication mentioned before but also to the fact that the interventions to raise awareness for early care-seeking are implemented by the CHW and Maputo City is the only province in Mozambique without CHW Program . Care-seeking behaviour was not influenced by child’s age or sex, a finding similar to other studies carried out in Ethiopia and Zambia [10, 30].
This study had two important limitations. First, the data related to fever and treatment practices by caretakers was self-reported. It is possible that some participants have had difficulties in recalling all relevant details or may have been influenced by social-desirability bias. However, given that only episodes of fever in the 2 weeks prior to the surveys were considered, this may have contributed to minimize the recall bias. Secondly, although both surveys used nationally and regionally representative samples, their sample sizes were different.