Manifestations, responses, and consequences of mistreatment of sick newborns and young infants and their parents in health facilities in Kenya

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Article (peer-reviewed)

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Background: Despite efforts to incorporate experience of care for women and newborns in global quality standards, there are limited efforts to understand experience of care for sick newborns and young infants. This paper describes the manifestations, responses, and consequences of mistreatment of sick young infants (SYIs), drivers, and parental responses in hospital settings in Kenya. Methods: A qualitative formative study to inform the development of strategies for promoting family engagement and respectful care of SYI was conducted in five facilities in Kenya. Data were collected from in-depth interviews with providers and policy makers (n = 35) and parents (n = 25), focus group discussions with women and men (n = 12 groups), and ethnographic observations in each hospital (n = 64 observation sessions). Transcribed data were organized using Nvivo 12 software and analyzed thematically. Results: We identified 5 categories of mistreatment: 1) health system conditions and constraints, including a) failure to meet professional standards, b) delayed provision of care; and c) limited provider skills; 2) stigma and discrimination, due to provider perception of personal hygiene or medical condition, and patient feelings of abandonment; 3) physically inappropriate care, including providers taking blood samples and inserting intravenous lines and nasogastric tubes in a rough manner; or parents being pressured to forcefully feed infants or share unsterile feeding cups to avoid providers’ anger; 4) poor parental-provider rapport, expressed as ineffective communication, verbal abuse, perceived disinterest, and non-consented care; and 5) no organized form of bereavement and posthumous care in the case of infant’s death. Parental responses to mistreatment were acquiescent or non-confrontational and included feeling humiliated or accepting the situation. Assertive responses were rare but included articulating disappointment by expressing anger, and/or deciding to seek care elsewhere. Conclusion: Mistreatment for SYIs is linked to poor quality of care. To address mistreatment in SYI, interventions that focus on building better communication, responding to the developmental needs of infants and emotional needs for parents, strengthen providers competencies in newborn care, as well as a supportive, enabling environments, will lead to more respectful quality care for newborns and young infants.