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Free Content The use of non-prescribed medication in the first 3 months of life in rural South Africa

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Summary Objective 

This paper describes the use of non-prescribed medications given to a cohort of infants in the first 3 months of life in a rural South African district, and discusses some of the implications for primary health care. Methods 

As part of an ongoing study on breastfeeding, a cohort of 110 infants were visited at home at 6 and 12 weeks of age. Any medications given to the infant since the last visit, the reasons for their administration, and any visits made to traditional healers were recorded via a semi-structured questionnaire. Determinants of administration of non-prescribed medication were analysed, including maternal age, education, infant gender and socio-economic factors. Results 

A total of 107 (97%) infants received non-prescribed medications in the first 3 months of life: 98 (89%) rectally and 64 (58%) orally. The most common enema contained traditional Zulu medicine made from herbs, given more than once weekly, usually for perceived constipation; the most common oral medication was gripe water, given once daily, mainly for ‘colic’ or ‘wind’. Twenty-nine (26%) mothers had consulted a traditional healer, most commonly because of concerns about a capillary naevus, thought to cause pain. Mothers with a ‘clean’ water supply were more likely to give non-prescribed oral medications than those without (OR = 2.7 and P = 0.0223), whilst those who had no education were less likely to administer them than those who had completed school (OR = 0.19 and P = 0.0326). Conclusions 

Non-prescribed medications are given almost universally to young infants in our area, irrespective of socio-economic class. Health professionals need to be aware of the extent of, and reasons for, administration of non-prescribed medications to young infants, so that effective health messages can be targeted at mothers and caregivers.

Keywords: South Africa; enema; infants; non-prescribed medications; over-the-counter medications; traditional healer; traditional medications

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: 1:  Africa Centre for Health and Population Studies, Mtubatuba, kwaZulu Natal, South Africa 2:  HIVAN HIV/AIDS Network, Nelson Mandela School of Medicine, University of Natal, Durban, South Africa

Publication date: January 1, 2004


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