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J Biosoc Sci. 2015 Jul;47(4):423-48. doi: 10.1017/S0021932014000145. Epub 2014 Apr 9.

Socio-cultural determinants of infant malnutrition in Cameroon.

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  • 1*Centre for Concurrences in Colonial and Postcolonial Studies,Linnaeus University,35195 Växjö,Sweden.
  • 2†Visual Identities in Arts and Design (VIAD),University of Johannesburg,South Africa.

Abstract

This study seeks to explore and explain the socio-cultural factors responsible for the incidence of infant malnutrition in Cameroon with particular emphasis on northern Cameroon where it is most accentuated. It combines quantitative data drawn from the 1991, 1998, 2004 and 2011 Cameroon Demographic and Health Surveys, as well as a literature review of publications by the WHO and UNICEF. This is further complemented with qualitative data from various regions of Cameroon, partly from a national ethnographic study on the ethno-medical causes of infertility in Cameroon conducted between 1999 and 2000. Whereas socio-cultural factors related to child feeding and maternal health (breast-feeding, food taboos and representations of the colostrum as dangerous for infants) are widespread throughout Cameroon, poverty-related factors (lack of education for mothers, natural disaster, unprecedented influx of refugees, inaccessibility and inequity in the distribution of health care services) are pervasive in northern Cameroon. This conjunction of factors accounts for the higher incidence of infant malnutrition and mortality in northern Cameroon. The study suggests the need for women's empowerment and for health care personnel in transcultural situations to understand local cultural beliefs, practices and sentiments before initiating change efforts in infant feeding practices and maternal health. Biomedical services should be tailored to the social and cultural needs of the target population--particularly women--since beliefs and practices underpin therapeutic recourse. Whereas infant diarrhoea might be believed to be the result of sexual contact, in reality, it is caused by unhygienic conditions. Similarly, weaning foods aimed at transmitting ethnic identity might not meet a child's age-specific food needs and might instead give rise to malnutrition.

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