We examine patterns of health seeking behavior prior to death among 1282 individuals who lived in the Umkhanyakude District of Northern KwaZulu-Natal. Information on the health care choices of these individuals, who died between January 2003 and July 2004, was gathered after their deaths from their primary care-givers. We examine choices made concerning public and private medicine, western and traditional medicine, and non-prescribed self-medication. We find that virtually all adults who were ill prior to death sought treatment from a Western medical provider, visiting either a public clinic or a private doctor. In this district, which is predominantly poor, ninety percent of adults who sought treatment from a public clinic also visited a private doctor. Fifty percent also sought treatment from a traditional healer, suggesting that traditional medicine is seen as a complement to, rather than a substitute for, Western care. Better educated people who were ill for less than a month before dying were significantly more likely to visit a private doctor, while those least well educated were more likely to visit a traditional healer. Controlling for length of illness, better educated and wealthier people sought care from a greater range of providers, and spent significantly more on their treatment.
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