Background: Post-hospital discharge mortality risk is high among young children in many low and middle-income countries (LMICs). The available literature suggests that child, caregiver and health care provider gender all play important roles in post-discharge adherence to medical advice, treatment-seeking and recovery for ill children in LMICs, including those with undernutrition.
Methods: A qualitative study was embedded within a larger multi-country multi-disciplinary observational cohort study involving children aged less than 2 years conducted by the Childhood Acute Illness and Nutrition (CHAIN) Network. Primary data were collected from family members of 22 purposively selected cohort children. Family members were interviewed several times in their homes over the 6 months following hospital discharge (total n = 78 visits to homes). These in-depth interviews were complemented by semi-structured individual interviews with 6 community representatives, 11 community health workers and 12 facility-based health workers, and three group discussions with a total of 24 community representatives. Data were analysed using NVivo11 software, using both narrative and thematic approaches.
Results: We identified gender-related influences at health service/system and household/community levels. These influences interplayed to family members' adherence to medical advice and treatment-seeking after hospital discharge, with potentially important implications for children's recovery. Health service/system level influences included: fewer female medical practitioners in healthcare facilities, which influenced mothers' interest and ability to consult them promptly for their child's illnesses; gender-related challenges for community health workers in supporting mothers with counselling and advice; and male caregivers' being largely absent from the paediatric wards where information sessions to support post-discharge care are offered. Gendered household/community level influences included: women's role as primary caretakers for children and available levels of support; male family members having a dominant role in decision-making related to food and treatment-seeking behaviour; and greater reluctance among parents to invest money and time in the treatment of female children, as compared to male children.
Conclusions: A complex web of gender related influences at health systems/services and household/community levels have important implications for young children's recovery post-discharge. Immediate interventions with potential for positive impact include awareness-raising among all stakeholders - including male family members - on how gender influences child health and recovery, and how to reduce adverse consequences of gender-based discrimination. Specific interventions could include communication interventions in facilities and homes, and changes in routine practices such as who is present in facility interactions. To maximise and sustain the impact of immediate actions and interventions, the structural drivers of women's position in society and gender inequity must also be tackled. This requires interventions to ensure equal equitable opportunities for men and women in all aspects of life, including access to education and income generation activities. Given patriarchal norms locally and globally, men will likely need special targeting and support in achieving these objectives.
Keywords: Bangladesh; Children; Gender relations; Hospitalization; Treatment-seeking; Undernutrition.