Parents of toddlers in Ghana in West Africa know little about the signs and symptoms of pneumonia nor how to best provide care for a sick child, researchers from the Ghana Health Service concluded in a recent report.
The study, “Community perceptions and practices of treatment seeking for childhood pneumonia: a mixed methods study in a rural district, Ghana,” published in the journal BMC Public Health, indicates that information campaigns, teaching parents to recognize the symptoms of pneumonia and to seek care, are necessary to reduce childhood death from pneumonia in developing countries.
In many areas lacking formal health facilities in Africa, community health workers have been introduced to improve access to healthcare. These workers can help in the home-based care of conditions that increase child mortality.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), child mortality in developing countries could be reduced by providing community treatment of pneumonia in children under the age of 5. However, the adequate treatment of a small child with pneumonia rests largely on parents’ perceptions and understanding of the disease.
Earlier studies from Asia and other regions of Africa show that parents generally have a good knowledge of the condition, but so far, few investigations have been conducted in Ghana, formerly known as the Gold Coast.
Researchers at the Ghana Health Service, joined forces with European and American researchers to study awareness of the condition in the Dangme West district of Ghana. They interviewed 501 caregivers of children under the age of 5. The group of caregivers was composed mainly of women, of which 29 percent had no formal education.
The study also held eight focus group discussions comprised of 56 caregivers and eight community members held in high regard by the society. Researchers referred to these community members as key informants, and they were also interviewed. They included three traditional birth attendants, one herbalist, three chemical shop attendants, and one community leader.
The study revealed that only about one-third of the study participants had ever heard of the word pneumonia. Even among those who had encountered the name, 58 percent were not aware of any symptoms of the disease and did not recognize them when shown a video of a sick child. Most people were also not aware of the fact that pneumonia could be a life-threatening condition.
If fever occurred, parents most frequently used herbal and other traditional remedies to manage the condition, or confused the condition with malaria. Most caregivers believed that symptoms of pneumonia were caused by exposure to cold temperatures and wind, or thought that breathing difficulties were linked to headaches, junk food, or worm infestations. Other explanations also surfaced during the study.
Despite the lack of knowledge, the study showed that the vast majority of parents were willing to use the services of community health workers if needed. Also, caregivers living closer to clinics and hospitals tended to rely on these health services rather than providing home care.