Community understanding of the concept of pre-referral treatment and how this impacts on referral related decision-making following the provision of rectal artesunate: a qualitative study in western Uganda.

19 Jun 2018
Strachan CE, Nuwa A, Muhangi D, Okui AP, Helinski MEH, Tibenderana JK


Successful pre-referral treatment with rectal artesunate (RA) for suspected severe malaria requires operational linkages between community health workers (CHWs) and referral facilities, acceptance of pre-referral treatment and adherence to referral practices by CHWs and caregivers. This qualitative study investigated how community understanding of the concept of 'pre-referral treatment' is used in referral related decision-making following provision of RA in Uganda.


Narrative interviews were conducted with 30 caregivers of children under five who received RA within the previous three months and the 30 associated CHWs who provided the treatment. Nineteen focus group discussions incorporating vignettes from the interviews were held with further caregivers, and 12 with CHWs and women representatives. Twenty traditional healers were targeted for semi-structured interview. Thematic analysis followed a 'meaning-based' approach.


CHWs were aware of essential information to be given to caregivers on prescribing RA as indicated by the job aid, specifically urgency for referral, yet there was insufficient emphasis on RA not being a full treatment for severe malaria. Information shared by the CHW appeared to be influenced by the perceived urgency with which the CHW needed to act and the time of day or night the child was seen. Seven of the 32 caregivers did not complete referral post RA administration. Caregivers seemed more likely to adhere to referral advice if they perceived their child's condition to be severe. Previous caregiver experience and CHW comparisons with Artemisinin-based Combination Therapy (ACT) as a treatment for uncomplicated malaria appeared to raise misperceptions that RA is a complete treatment for severe malaria, thus reducing likelihood to complete referral. CHW implication, or caregiver interpretation, of the need to monitor the child, and some prescription of ACT post RA administration, also confused the need for referral. Both CHWs and caregivers requested further information about the role of RA.


CHW advice should emphasise RA as providing temporary relief prior to facility-based treatment, the importance of referral whether or not a change is seen in the child's condition, and the dangers of not completing referral. Social behaviour change communication, training and support supervision activities could help promote these messages.