Women's perceptions of health, quality of life, and malaria management in Kakamega County, Western Province, Kenya


Florence V. Dunkel, Leanna M. Hansen, Sarah J. Halvorson, Arthur Bangert




We assess women's perceptions of health risks in relation to quality of life concerns, with attention to variables viewed as central to maintaining or improving health and well-being. In this paper, we specifically underscore how a life-threatening disease--malaria--is experienced and bio-cyclically understood and managed in relation to seasonal hunger, food insecurities, and livelihood vulnerabilities. The study, conducted June-July 2013, draws on field data and interviews with 60 women farmers of the Luhya community along the Yala River in Kakamega County, Western Province, Kenya. Major findings suggest the following: (1) women's perceived desired quality of life is shaped by priorities for children's education, nutrition, food security, and economic security in their rural communities; (2) malaria emerged as a challenging household health problem that curtails livelihood opportunities for most study participants; and (3) local understandings of malaria transmission, particularly how and when female mosquitoes become infected with malaria-causing protozoans, was low, but malaria symptoms were relatively well-understood. The interest and motivation to institute new malaria risk reduction practices at the community level are explored, including attention to building upon the Luhya tradition of oral storytelling in order to promote actions to eliminate malaria. This analysis of local narratives of health risks illustrates these points and demonstrates how women's constructions of health risks and well-being provide a basis for developing interventions targeting income generation and microloan opportunities that could support Kenyan women in their intersecting approaches to malaria, securing nutritious diets, and enhancing the local health environment.



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