OBJECTIVE: To study the impact of cost of treatment for sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) on the preference of men with urethritis to seek care in the informal sector. SUBJECTS AND METHODS: A random sample of young men from the general population of Yaoundé and Douala, Cameroon, and of employees of a Yaoundé factory underwent a structured interview on the occurrence of STD-related complaints and health seeking behaviour. Men who consulted in the formal sector were compared with men consulting in the informal sector, with regards to cost of medication and level of education. RESULTS: Sixteen percent of men in the general population and 20% of factory employees reported a history of urethritis in the 12 months preceding the interview. Of the men in the general population 53% had sought care in the formal sector; among the factory employees this proportion was 56%. Men who did not consult in the formal sector spent significantly less on drugs than men who did consult in the formal sector: median cost $14.4 versus $24.0 (p = 0.02) for drugs purchased in pharmacies; median cost $8 versus $32 for drugs purchased in small stores or from acquaintances. Preference for formal health services was associated with higher educational attainment. CONCLUSION: In large towns in Cameroon the utilisation of formal health services for STD related complaints is low and the high cost of treatment in the formal sector may play an important role in the choice of care option.
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