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October 2021

Soc Sci Med. 1998 Dec; 47(12): 2101-11.

Careseeking for illness in young infants in an urban slum in India.

de Zoysa I, Bhandari N, Akhtari N, Bhan MK.

Rose Farm, New Delhi, India. [email protected]

Illness in infants in the first two months of life can take a precipitous life-threatening course, and requires timely and appropriate medical assessment and management. We conducted a focused ethnographic study of illness in young infants and associated careseeking practices in an urban slum in New Delhi, India, in order to identify the constraints in securing effective care for severe illness in this age group. The findings suggest that maternal recognition of illness is not a limiting factor in the use of health care services for sick young infants in this setting. Mothers respond to a number of important signs of illness, including changes in the young infant's sleeping or feeding behavior, and they are usually prompt in seeking care outside the home. They are not able, however, to discriminate among the many sources of health care available in this setting, and give preference to local unqualified private practitioners. Most practitioners, including qualified medical practitioners, display critical failures in the assessment and management of sick young infants. The continuity and effectiveness of care is further compromised by the caretakers' expectations of rapid cure, which result in discontinued treatment courses and frequent changes in practitioners, and by their reluctance to seek hospital care. The implications of these findings for the design of programs to reduce young infant mortality are discussed. In particular, the feasibility and acceptability of hospital referrals according to current program guidelines are called into question.

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