IDEAS home Printed from
   My bibliography  Save this article

Maternal health and knowledge and infant health outcomes in the Ariaal people of northern Kenya


  • Miller, Elizabeth M.


There is a strong link between maternal knowledge and child well-being in many populations worldwide. Fewer studies have investigated the links between indigenous systems of medical knowledge and infant outcomes in non-Western societies, such as the Ariaal people of northern Kenya. This study has four goals. First, it defines culture-specific domains of health knowledge in Ariaal mothers using the cultural consensus method, a statistical model that measures knowledge shared by a set of informants. Second, it identifies factors that predict maternal health knowledge. Third, it investigates associations between maternal health knowledge and treatment-seeking behaviors. Finally, it associates health knowledge with biomarkers of infant health. Data collection took place in two separate periods. The first data collection period (October–November 2007) enrolled 41 women to participate in an open-ended interview or true-false consensus questionnaire. The second data collection period (November 2008–January 2009) used information from the cultural consensus analysis to assess how health knowledge impacted infant health outcomes and treatment. Women and infants in this data collection period (n = 251 pairs) underwent anthropometric measurement and participated in a questionnaire that included traditional medicine consensus questions. Data were analyzed using the cultural consensus capabilities in ANTHROPAC 4.98; univariate and multivariate statistics were performed in SAS 9.2. This study found consensus in the domains of infant illness, traditional medicine, Western medicine, and treatment decision-making. Proximity to a medical dispensary and use of public health infrastructure significantly predicted higher levels of maternal health knowledge. Mothers’ knowledge of traditional medicine was positively associated with treating infants at a dispensary versus at home. Finally, women with greater knowledge of traditional medicine had infants who were significantly less likely to have been ill in the previous month. These results highlight the importance of both traditional and Western health knowledge for Ariaal mothers and infants.

Suggested Citation

  • Miller, Elizabeth M., 2011. "Maternal health and knowledge and infant health outcomes in the Ariaal people of northern Kenya," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 73(8), pages 1266-1274.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:socmed:v:73:y:2011:i:8:p:1266-1274
    DOI: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2011.07.009

    Download full text from publisher

    File URL:
    Download Restriction: Full text for ScienceDirect subscribers only

    As the access to this document is restricted, you may want to search for a different version of it.

    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Sonalde Desai & Soumya Alva, 1998. "Maternal education and child health: Is there a strong causal relationship?," Demography, Springer;Population Association of America (PAA), vol. 35(1), pages 71-81, February.
    2. Basu, Alaka Malwade & Stephenson, Rob, 2005. "Low levels of maternal education and the proximate determinants of childhood mortality: a little learning is not a dangerous thing," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 60(9), pages 2011-2023, May.
    3. Barrera, Albino, 1990. "The role of maternal schooling and its interaction with public health programs in child health production," Journal of Development Economics, Elsevier, vol. 32(1), pages 69-91, January.
    4. Frost, Michelle Bellessa & Forste, Renata & Haas, David W., 2005. "Maternal education and child nutritional status in Bolivia: finding the links," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 60(2), pages 395-407, January.
    5. Cleland, John G. & van Ginneken, Jerome K., 1988. "Maternal education and child survival in developing countries: The search for pathways of influence," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 27(12), pages 1357-1368, January.
    6. Giovannini, Peter & Reyes-García, Victoria & Waldstein, Anna & Heinrich, Michael, 2011. "Do pharmaceuticals displace local knowledge and use of medicinal plants? Estimates from a cross-sectional study in a rural indigenous community, Mexico," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 72(6), pages 928-936, March.
    7. Germano Mwabu & Martha Ainsworth & Andrew Nyamete, 1993. "Quality of Medical Care and Choice of Medical Treatment in Kenya: An Empirical Analysis," Journal of Human Resources, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 28(4), pages 838-862.
    8. Nyamongo, I. K., 2002. "Health care switching behaviour of malaria patients in a Kenyan rural community," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 54(3), pages 377-386, February.
    9. Nathan, Martha A. & Fratkin, Elliot M. & Roth, Eric Abella, 1996. "Sedentism and child health among rendille pastoralists of Northern Kenya," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 43(4), pages 503-515, August.
    Full references (including those not matched with items on IDEAS)


    Citations are extracted by the CitEc Project, subscribe to its RSS feed for this item.

    Cited by:

    1. Zita Oravecz & Royce Anders & William Batchelder, 2015. "Hierarchical Bayesian Modeling for Test Theory Without an Answer Key," Psychometrika, Springer;The Psychometric Society, vol. 80(2), pages 341-364, June.
    2. Forsyth, Colin, 2015. "Controlled but not cured: Structural processes and explanatory models of Chagas disease in tropical Bolivia," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 145(C), pages 7-16.
    3. Pierce, Hayley & Heaton, Tim B. & Hoffmann, John, 2014. "Increasing maternal healthcare use in Rwanda: Implications for child nutrition and survival," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 107(C), pages 61-67.


    All material on this site has been provided by the respective publishers and authors. You can help correct errors and omissions. When requesting a correction, please mention this item's handle: RePEc:eee:socmed:v:73:y:2011:i:8:p:1266-1274. See general information about how to correct material in RePEc.

    For technical questions regarding this item, or to correct its authors, title, abstract, bibliographic or download information, contact: (Dana Niculescu). General contact details of provider: .

    If you have authored this item and are not yet registered with RePEc, we encourage you to do it here. This allows to link your profile to this item. It also allows you to accept potential citations to this item that we are uncertain about.

    If CitEc recognized a reference but did not link an item in RePEc to it, you can help with this form .

    If you know of missing items citing this one, you can help us creating those links by adding the relevant references in the same way as above, for each refering item. If you are a registered author of this item, you may also want to check the "citations" tab in your RePEc Author Service profile, as there may be some citations waiting for confirmation.

    Please note that corrections may take a couple of weeks to filter through the various RePEc services.

    IDEAS is a RePEc service hosted by the Research Division of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis . RePEc uses bibliographic data supplied by the respective publishers.