This paper examines care-seeking practices of mother caretakers with children less than five years of age in a rural district of Sri Lanka. The study was carried out from June to September 1998, documenting care-seeking practices of mother caretakers in a population of 2248 children in 60 villages. Of the five targeted diseases in the IMCI programme (Integrated Management of Childhood Illnesses) that were the focus of the study, acute respiratory infections (82.0%) and diarrhoea (14.8%) were predominant. Although malnutrition was highly prevalent it was not recognised by mother caretakers as an illness. Findings show that in 65.0% of illness episodes in children the mother caretakers sought outside care and treatment. Caretakers sought treatment from both private and public sectors with the majority seeking care in the private sector. Care seeking of mother caretakers was driven by symptomology. Young children with higher perceived severity and high-risk symptoms were brought to provider care more frequently, although a large percentage of episodes with low-risk symptoms were also brought for outside care. Care seeking was similar across socio-economic groups. The study points out that high care seeking of mother caretakers in Sri Lanka, particularly for illnesses with acute high-risk symptoms and signs, is a plausible explanation for the low level of childhood mortality despite the prevalence of a high rate of malnutrition. © 2001 Elsevier Science Ltd. All rights reserved.
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