Exploring terminology for puerperal sepsis and its symptoms in urban Karachi, Pakistan to improve communication, care-seeking, and illness recognition

Document Type



Obstetrics and Gynaecology; Paediatrics and Child Health


Puerperal sepsis is an important cause of maternal morbidity and mortality in developing countries. Awareness of local terminology for its signs and symptoms may improve communication about this illness, what actions to take when symptoms appear, timely care seeking, and clinical outcomes. This formative research aimed to improve recognition and management of postpartum sepsis in Pakistan by eliciting local terms used for postpartum illnesses and symptoms. We conducted 32 in-depth interviews with recently delivered women, their relatives, traditional birth attendants, and health care providers to explore postpartum experiences. Terms for symptoms and illness are used interchangeably (i.e. bukhar, the Urdu word for fever), many variations exist for the same term, and gradations of severity for each term as not associated with different types of illnesses. The lack of a designated term for postpartum sepsis in Urdu delays care-seeking and proper diagnosis, particularly at the community level. Ideally, a common lexicon for symptoms and postpartum sepsis would be developed but this may not be feasible or appropriate given the nature of the Urdu language and local understandings of postpartum illness. These insights can inform how we approach educational campaigns, the development of clinical algorithms that focus on symptoms, and counselling protocols


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