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Trop Med Int Health. 2011 Jan;16(1):42-52. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-3156.2010.02672.x. Epub 2010 Nov 23.

Disease profile of children under 5 years attending primary health care clinics in a high HIV prevalence setting in South Africa.

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Centre for Rural Health, University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban, South Africa.



To describe the presenting complaints and disease profile of children attending primary health care (PHC) clinics in two provinces of South Africa.


Participants were sick children 2-59 months old presenting for care at PHC clinics in KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) and Limpopo provinces from 2006-2007. Children were assessed by an expert Integrated Management of Childhood Illnesses (IMCI) practitioner. Children for whom parental/guardian consent was obtained were tested for HIV.


A total of 1357 children attending one of 74 clinics were assessed. HIV seroprevalence overall was 7.1%, but was significantly higher in KZN than Limpopo (7.5 vs. 2.4%; OR = 3.3, 95%CI 1.9-5.8%). Commonest presenting complaints were cough (72%), skin conditions (22%) and diarrhoea (19%). Of 1349 children, 120 (8.9%) had a weight below the third percentile; 108/1357 (8.0%) children required urgent referral, most commonly for severe pneumonia (53.7%) and severe malnutrition (16.7%). In multivariate analyses, severe pneumonia, growth faltering and urgent referral were independently associated with younger age, residence in KZN and HIV infection (P < 0.05).


Many children with severe illnesses and undiagnosed HIV infection present to PHC facilities. PHC staff require skills to correctly manage these conditions and undertake HIV testing. Although IMCI provides evidence-based guidelines, implementation must be improved to achieve adequate coverage of life-saving interventions.

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