BACKGROUND: Effective and timely treatment is an essential aspect of malaria control, but remains a challenge in many parts of sub-Saharan Africa. The objective of this study was to describe young children's access to malaria treatment in Nouna Health District, Burkina Faso. METHODS: In February/March 2006, a survey was conducted in a representative sample of 1,052 households. RESULTS: Overall 149/1052 (14%) households reported the current possession of anti-malarial medicine, which was significantly associated with urban area, literacy of household head, having young children, and high socio-economic status. Out of a total of 802 children under five years, at least one malaria episode was reported for 239 (30%) within the last month. Overall 95% of children received treatment, either modern (72%), traditional (18%) or mixed (5%). Most of the medicines were provided as home treatment by the caregiver and half of children received some type of modern treatment within 24 hours of the occurrence of first symptoms. Despite a recent policy change to artemisinin-based combination therapy, modern anti-malarials consisted mainly of chloroquine (93%). Modern drugs were obtained more often from a health facility in localities with a health facility compared to those without (60% vs. 25.6%, p < 0.001). In contrast, beside informal providers, volunteer community health workers (CHW) were the main source of modern medicine in localities without a health centre (28% vs. 3%, p < 0.001). CONCLUSION: Access to modern health services providing quality controlled effective combination therapies against malaria needs to be strengthened in rural Africa, which should include a re-investigation of the role of CHW 30 years after Alma Ata.
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