Quality of care offered to children attending primary health care clinics in Johannesburg
Objective. To assess the quality of child health services provided at primary health care (PHC) facilities in Johannesburg, South Africa. Design. Observational study conducted at 16 PHC clinics. A researcher-developed structured checklist, based on national guidelines and protocols, was utilised. Results. The majority of facilities were adequately equipped and well stocked with drugs. A total of 141 sick child and 149 well child visits were observed. Caregivers experienced long waiting times (mean 135 (standard deviation 72) minutes). Many routine examination procedures were poorly performed, with an adequate diagnosis established in 108 of 141 consultations (77%), even though health professionals were experienced and well trained. Triage and attention to danger signs were poor. An antibiotic was prescribed in almost half (65/141) of the consultations, but antibiotic use was unwarranted in one-third of these cases. Health promotion activities (such as growth monitoring) were consistently ignored during sick child visits. HIV status was seldom asked about or investigated, for the mother or for the child. Growth monitoring and nutritional counselling at well child visits was generally inadequate, with not one of 11 children who qualified for food supplementation receiving it. Conclusion. The poor quality of PHC offered to children in the richest city in Africa is a sad indictment of the inability of health service providers to address children’s health needs meaningfully. A deliberate and radical restructuring of PHC for children, with clearly defined and monitored standard clinical practice routines and norms, is required to change the status quo.