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September 2019

Bol Oficina Sanit Panam. 1995 Nov; 119(5): 377-90.

[Childhood diarrhea in rural Nicaragua: beliefs and traditional health practices]

Gorter AC, Sánchez G, Pauw J, Pérez RM, Sandiford P, Smith GD.

Fundación de Desarrollo Social y Económico del Area Rural (DESEAR), Managua, Nicaragua.

In Nicaragua, the principal cause of infant mortality is diarrhea, which is responsible for 40% of these deaths annually. This statistic reflects the low usage of health services and oral rehydration therapy (ORT). In an effort to improve the situation, several studies were carried out in Villa Carlos Fonseca municipio. This report describes two of those studies, one ethnographic and the other epidemiologic (conducted in 1989 and 1990, respectively), to find out beliefs and traditional health practices and their influence on the way in which mothers responded to their children's diarrheal illness. The ethnographic study involved interviewing 70 mothers with an average age of 28 years who had children under 2 years of age. The children represented two groups: one at high risk for diarrhea and the other at low risk. The objectives were to learn the traditional names for diarrhea, the perception of risk, and the treatments that were used. The epidemiologic study included 391 mothers over 14 years of age with one or more children under age 5 years, of whom 215 had had diarrhea in the two weeks preceding the survey. The objectives were to describe local beliefs and health practices and to determine the incidence of diarrheas according to the diagnosis made by the mothers. At least 12 types of diarrhea were identified, for which terms such as "empacho" and "sol de vista" were used. In most cases, the mothers had more confidence in folkloric treatments that they themselves or the traditional healers (curanderos) applied than in the services offered at health centers. This attitude limited their use of health services and ORT, although it was observed that in certain cases traditional treatments were used in combination with those of western medicine. There was a direct but nonsignificant correlation between the level of schooling of the mothers and the frequency with which they visited the health center. The authors suggest the effects of massages, herbal baths, and other traditional treatments should be studied to evaluate their effectiveness and adapt them, to the extent possible, to "modern" medicine. Health services providers should become familiar with traditional nomenclature and beliefs in order to be able to communicate better with mothers and steer them away from harmful practices toward improved results in infant diarrheal disease prevention programs.


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