Different health-care management guidelines by the World Health Organization exist to help health workers in resource-limited settings treat patients. However, for children with unclassified fever and no danger signs, management guidelines are less clear and follow-up recommendations differ. Both a "universal follow-up" for all children, irrespective of health status, and a "conditional follow-up" only for children whose fever persists are recommended in different guidelines. It is unclear how feasible and acceptable these two different follow-up guidelines are among community health workers and caregivers of the sick child. This qualitative study was conducted in Ethiopia and was nested within a cluster-randomized controlled trial (cRCT). It aimed to determine health extension workers' (HEWs') and caregivers' experiences of the management of febrile children and their perceptions of universal versus conditional follow-up recommendations. Seventeen HEWs and 20 caregivers were interviewed. The interviews revealed that HEWs' understanding of how to handle an unclassified fever diagnosis increased with the implementation of the cRCT in both study arms (universal versus conditional follow-up). This enabled HEWs to withhold medicines from children with this condition and avoid referral to health centers. Both follow-up recommendations had perceived advantages, while the universal follow-up provided an opportunity to see the child's health progress, the conditional follow-up advice allowed saving time and costs. The findings suggest that improved awareness of the unclassified fever condition can make HEWs feel more comfortable in managing these febrile children themselves and omitting unnecessary medication. Future community-level management guidelines should provide clearer instructions on managing fever where no malaria, pneumonia, diarrhea, or danger signs are present.
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