A review of literature on treatment seeking for malaria was undertaken to identify patterns of care seeking, and to assess what is known about the adequacy of the treatments used. There is considerable variation in treatment seeking patterns, with use of the official sector ranging from 10-99% and self-purchase of drugs ranging from 4-87%. The majority of malaria cases receive some type of treatment, and multiple treatments are common. The response to most episodes begins with self-treatment, and close to half of cases rely exclusively on self-treatment, usually with antimalarials. A little more than half use the official health sector or village health workers at some point, with delays averaging three or more days. Exclusive reliance on traditional methods is extremely rare, although traditional remedies are often combined with modern medicines. Although use of antimalarials is widespread, underdosing is extremely common. Further research is needed to answer the question of what proportion of true malaria cases get appropriate treatment with effective antimalarial drugs, and to identify the best strategies to improve the situation. Interventions for the private and public sector need to be developed and evaluated. More information is needed on the specific drugs used, considering resistance patterns in a particular area. In order to guide future policy development, future studies should define the nature of self-treatment, record multiple treatments and attempt to identify the proportions of all cases who begin treatment with antimalarials at standardized time intervals. Hypothetical questions were found to be of limited usefulness in estimating rates of actual treatments. Whenever possible, studies should focus on actual episodes of illness and consider supplementing retrospective surveys with prospective diary-type methods. In addition, it is important to determine the specificity of local illness terms in identifying true malaria cases and the extent to which local perceptions of severity are consistent with clinical criteria for severity and symptoms of complicated malaria.