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October 2021

Soc Sci Med. 1997 Nov; 45(10): 1483-91.

Images of health and health care options among low income women in Punjab, Pakistan.

Winkvist A, Akhtar HZ.

Department of Epidemiology and Public Health, Umeå University, Sweden.

We studied women's beliefs and experiences of health and health care among 42 women in an urban slum area in Lahore and a village 40 km outside of Lahore. Data were collected through repeated, in-depth interviews in Urdu or Punjabi totalling 200 hours. For triangulation purposes, four focus group discussions with additional women were performed, as well as in-depth interviews with eight mothers-in-law, three traditional practitioners and three medical practitioners. The women's images of health reflected expectations on the women in society. Women from the village and women from the lowest socioeconomic stratum (SES) spoke of health in terms of physical strength; women from the city and women from low SES spoke of health in terms of mental strength; and women from medium SES discussed it in terms of cultural competence. Overall, health had a very low priority in these women's lives. Two health problems were reported by all women: mental tension leading to headache and white vaginal discharge leading to body pains and fatigue. These health problems were seen as part of womanhood; if treatment was sought, it was often from traditional healers. Village women had a flexible, pragmatic attitude toward health care resources and used all types until treated. Their relation to the doctor was specific; they were mostly concerned with the medical treatment. In contrast, city women chose health care providers depending on type of illness, and being met with respect was for them of equal concern. Childbearing experiences influenced the perceptions of health and health care. Mothers of daughters were seen to both need and deserve less food, health care and attention. These mothers were less vocal about health complaints. Women without children spoke of health in terms of physical strength. These women may have less access to health care because children cannot be used as an "excuse", and because they are not worth spending resources on.

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