Exploring communities’ perceptions of the etiology of illnesses in newborns and young infants 0–59 days old in 4 counties in Kenya

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Article (peer-reviewed)

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Background: Understanding communities’ beliefs about the causes of illnesses in sick young infants (SYIs) is key to strengthening interventions and improving newborn health outcomes. This study explored communities' perception of the etiology of illnesses in SYIs 0–59 days old in four counties in Kenya. Methods: We used an exploratory qualitative study design. Data were collected between August and September 2018 and involved 23 in-depth interviews with female caregivers aged 15-24years; 25 focus group discussions with female caregivers aged 15–18 years, 19–24 years and 25–45 years; and 7 focus group discussions with fathers aged 18–34 years and 35 or more years. Participants were purposely sampled, only those with SYIs 0–59 days old were eligible to participate. Data were analyzed using inductive thematic analysis framework approach. Results: Female caregivers and fathers attributed illnesses in SYIs 0–59 days old to natural (biomedical) and supernatural causes which sometimes co-existed. There were commonalities in perceived natural causes of illness in SYIs across sites, age groups and gender. Perceived natural causes of illness in SYIs include unfavorable environmental and hygiene conditions, poor maternal and child nutrition, and healthcare practices. Perceived supernatural causes of illness in SYIs such as ‘evil eyes’ were common across the four counties while others were geographically unique such as the belief that owls cause illnesses. Conclusion: Communities’ understanding of the etiology of illnesses in SYIs in the study settings overlapped between natural and supernatural causes. There is need for child health programmes to take into consideration communities’ beliefs and practices regarding disease and health to improve newborn health outcomes.