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Health seeking behaviour (HSB) refers to actions taken by individuals who are ill in order to find appropriate remedy. Most studies on HSB have only examined one symptom or covered only a specific geographical location within a country. In this study, we used a representative sample of adults to explore the factors associated with HSB in response to 30 symptoms reported by adult Malawians in 2016.
We used the 2016 Malawi Integrated Household Survey dataset. We fitted a multilevel logistic regression model of likelihood of ‘seeking care at a health facility’ using a forward step-wise selection method, with age, sex and reported symptoms entered as a priori variables. We calculated the odds ratios (ORs) and their associated 95% confidence intervals (95% CI). We set the level of statistical significance at P < 0.05.
Of 6909 adults included in the survey, 1907 (29%) reported symptoms during the 2 weeks preceding the survey. Of these, 937 (57%) sought care at a health facility. Adults in urban areas were more likely to seek health care at a health facility than those in rural areas (AOR = 1.65, 95% CI: 1.19–2.30, P = 0.003). Females had a higher likelihood of seeking care from health facilities than males (AOR = 1.26, 95% CI: 1.03–1.59, P = 0.029). Being of higher wealth status was associated with a higher likelihood of seeking care from a health facility (AOR = 1.58, 95% CI: 1.16–2.16, P = 0.004). Having fever and eye problems were associated with higher likelihood of seeking care at a health facility, while having headache, stomach ache and respiratory tract infections were associated with lower likelihood of seeking care at a health facility.
This study has shown that there is a need to understand and address individual, socioeconomic and geographical barriers to health seeking to increase access and appropriate use of health care and fast-track progress towards Universal Health Coverage among the adult population.