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Malar J. 2017 Sep 20;16(1):381. doi: 10.1186/s12936-017-2021-7.

Principles, practices and knowledge of clinicians when assessing febrile children: a qualitative study in Kenya.

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UCSF Benioff Children's Hospital Oakland, 747 52nd St, Oakland, CA, 94609, USA.
Department of Medicine, Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, 3400 Spruce St, Philadelphia, PA, 19104, USA.
Department of Pediatrics, Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, 3400 Spruce St, Philadelphia, PA, 19104, USA.
Kenya Medical Research Institute, P.O. Box 1578, Kisumu, 40100, Kenya.
Department of Environment and Health Sciences, Technical University of Mombasa, P.O. Box 90420 - 80100 G.P.O, Mombasa, Kenya.
Stanford University, 300 Pasteur Drive, G312C, Stanford, CA, 94305-5208, USA.
University of Washington, HMC Box 359909, 325 9th Avenue, Seattle, WA, 98104-2499, USA.
Vector-Borne Diseases Unit, P. O. Box 20750 - 00202, Nairobi, Kenya.
UCSF School of Nursing Center for Global Health, Center for Global Health, Box 0606, San Francisco, CA, 94143-0602, USA.



Clinicians in low resource settings in malaria endemic regions face many challenges in diagnosing and treating febrile illnesses in children. Given the change in WHO guidelines in 2010 that recommend malaria testing prior to treatment, clinicians are now required to expand the differential when malaria testing is negative. Prior studies have indicated that resource availability, need for additional training in differentiating non-malarial illnesses, and lack of understanding within the community of when to seek care play a role in effective diagnosis and treatment. The objective of this study was to examine the various factors that influence clinician behavior in diagnosing and managing children presenting with fever to health centres in Kenya.


A total of 20 clinicians (2 paediatricians, 1 medical officer, 2 nurses, and 15 clinical officers) were interviewed, working at 5 different government-sponsored public clinic sites in two areas of Kenya where malaria is prevalent. Clinicians were interviewed one-on-one using a structured interview technique. Interviews were then analysed qualitatively for themes.


The following five themes were identified: (1) Strong familiarity with diagnosis of malaria and testing for malaria; (2) Clinician concerns about community understanding of febrile illness, use of traditional medicine, delay in seeking care, and compliance; (3) Reliance on clinical guidelines, history, and physical examination to diagnose febrile illness and recognize danger signs; (4) Clinician discomfort with diagnosis of primary viral illness leading to increased use of empiric antibiotics; and (5) Lack of resources including diagnostic testing, necessary medications, and training modalities contributes to the difficulty clinicians face in assessing and treating febrile illness in children. These themes persisted across all sites, despite variation in levels of medical care. Within these themes, clinicians consistently expressed a need for reliable basic testing, especially haemograms and bacterial cultures. Clinicians discussed the use of counseling and education to improve community understanding of febrile illness in order to decrease preventable deaths in children.


Results of this study suggest that since malarial testing has become more widespread, clinicians working in resource-poor environments still face difficulty when evaluating a child with fever, especially when malaria testing is negative. Improving access to additional diagnostics, continuing medical education, and ongoing evaluation and revision of clinical guidelines may lead to more consistent management of febrile illness by providers, and may potentially decrease prescription of unnecessary antibiotics. Additional interventions at the community level may also have an important role in managing febrile illness, however, more studies are needed to identify targets for intervention at both the clinic and community levels.


Behavior; Children; Fever; Kenya; Knowledge; Malaria; Practices; Principles

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