BMC International Health and Human Rights (Jun 2019)

Coping with ill-health: health care facility, chemist or medicinal plants? Health-seeking behaviour in a Kenyan wetland

  • Carmen Anthonj,
  • Peter Giovannini,
  • Thomas Kistemann

Journal volume & issue
Vol. 19, no. 1
pp. 1 – 14


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Abstract Background Sub-Saharan African wetlands, settlement areas to growing populations, expose their users to diseases as necessary health infrastructure remains underdeveloped. Methods Mixed methods were adopted to assess the health-seeking behaviour of different exposure groups (farmers, pastoralists, service sector workers) in a Kenyan wetland community. Based on a cross-sectional survey (n = 400), syndromic surveillance was linked to health-seeking event analysis. In-depth interviews with community members (n = 20) and experts (n = 8) enabled the integration of healthcare user and provider perspectives. Results Health-seeking behaviour in the wetland was determined by physical/infrastructural, natural/environmental, financial/socioeconomic and social/demographic factors, as well as human/cultural aspects such as traditional preferences rooted in health beliefs. Community members had different strategies of coping with ill-health and few symptoms remained untreated. Whether via a health care facility admission, the visit of a chemist, or the intake of pharmaceuticals or medicinal plants: treatment was usually applied either via a healthcare service provider or by the community members themselves. An undersupply of easy-to-reach healthcare options was detected, and healthcare services were not available and accessible to all. The widely-practiced self-treatment of symptoms, e.g. by use of local medicinal plants, mirrors both potential healthcare gaps and cultural preferences of wetland communities. Conclusions Integrated into an overall health-promoting wetland management approach, widely accepted (cultural) realities of health-seeking behaviours could complement health sector service provision and help ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all in wetlands.