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Health Workers' Practices in Assessment and Management of Children with Respiratory Symptoms in Primary Care Facilities in Uganda: A FRESH AIR Descriptive Study

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INTRODUCTION: Globally, acute lower respiratory infections are the leading cause of mortality among children under 5 years. Following World Health Organization primary care guidelines, pneumonia is diagnosed based on cough/difficult breathing and fast breathing. We aimed to describe the practices of healthcare workers in primary care health facilities in Uganda in the management of young children with respiratory symptoms especially regarding asthma as opposed to pneumonia.

METHODS: Health workers were observed during clinical consultations with children 1-59 months of age presenting with cough and/or difficult breathing at recruitment. Afterward, an exit interview with the caregiver was conducted. Health center availability of clinical guidelines, equipment and supplies for management of children with respiratory symptoms was assessed systematically.

RESULTS: A total of 218 consultations with 50 health workers at six health centers were included. Median consultation time was 4 min. Health workers asked history relevant to distinguishing asthma from pneumonia in 16% of consultations. The respiratory rate was counted in 10%. Antibiotics were prescribed to 32% of all the children and to 39% of children diagnosed with pneumonia. Caregivers reported being informed of findings and possible diagnosis in 5% of cases. Medicine and equipment needed for diagnosing and treating asthma were generally unavailable.

CONCLUSION: Clinical practices among Ugandan health workers in primary care are insufficient to distinguish between main causes of respiratory symptoms, especially asthma as opposed to pneumonia, in children under five. Irrational use of antibiotics is widespread. Clear communication with caregivers is lacking. This could be due to lack of relevant competencies, medicines, time and supplies.

LAY SUMMARY: Globally, the most frequent cause of death for children under five is infections in the lower airways. The World Health Organization recommends that in local health clinics this is defined as cough/difficult breathing and fast breathing. This article focuses on the practices of local health workers in Uganda and how they in practice diagnose and treat children under five with these symptoms. In addition, we try to estimate how much the caregivers of the children understand from the consultation. This is done by observing the healthcare workers (HCWs) and by interviewing the caregivers. In general, we found that the consultations were too short, that too few of the health workers looked for important signs for lower airways disease such as fast breathing and that antibiotics were prescribed in too many of the consultations. Also, the length and quality of the consultations and the supplies at the local health clinics were not sufficient to diagnose and treat asthma, which can often be mistaken for an infection. We believe that it is an important problem that too few children with asthma are being diagnosed correctly and that antibiotics are being prescribed too frequently, the latter being an important cause of antibiotic resistance. Relevant action must be taken to improve this.

Original languageEnglish
Article numberfmab042
JournalJournal of Tropical Pediatrics
Volume67
Issue number2
ISSN0142-6338
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 17 May 2021

    Research areas

  • Asthma, Child, Child, Preschool, Health Personnel, Humans, Infant, Pneumonia/diagnosis, Primary Health Care, Uganda/epidemiology, respiratory illness, health workers, asthma, children, communication

ID: 67024803