Public health risks in urban slums: Findings of the qualitative 'healthy kitchens healthy cities' study in Kathmandu, Nepal

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© 2016 Elsey et al. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited. Background: Communities in urban slums face multiple risks to their health. These are shaped by intermediary and structural determinants. Gaining a clear understanding of these determinants is a prerequisite for developing interventions to reduce the health consequences of urban poverty. With 828 million people living in slum conditions, the need to find ways to reduce risks to health has never been greater. In many low income settings, the kitchen is the epicentre of activities and behaviours which either undermine or enhance health. Methods: We used qualitative methods of semi-structured interviews, observation and participatory workshops in two slum areas in Kathmandu, Nepal to gain women's perspectives on the health risks they faced in and around their kitchens. Twenty one women were interviewed and four participatory workshops with a total of 69 women were held. The women took photographs of their kitchens to trigger discussions. Findings: The main health conditions identified by the women were respiratory disease, gastrointestinal disease and burn injuries. Women clearly understood intermediary (psychosocial, material and behavioural) determinants to these health conditions such as poor ventilation, cooking on open fires, over-crowding, lack of adequate child supervision. Women articulated the stress they experienced and clearly linked this to health conditions such as heart disease and uptake of smoking. They were also able to identify protective factors, particularly social capital. Subsequent analysis highlighted how female headed-households and those with disabilities had to contend with greater risks to health. Conclusions: Women living in slums are very aware of the intermediary determinants-material, behavioural and psycho-social, that increase their vulnerability to ill health. They are also able to identify protective factors, particularly social capital. It is only by understanding the determinants at all levels, not just the behavioural, that we will be able to identify appropriate interventions.




Elsey, H., Manandah, S., Sah, D., Khanal, S., MacGuire, F., King, R., … Baral, S. C. (2016). Public health risks in urban slums: Findings of the qualitative “healthy kitchens healthy cities” study in Kathmandu, Nepal. PLoS ONE, 11(9).

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