Parents are the first-line healthcare providers for their children and, thus, need to identify and treat symptoms, including knowing whether and how to seek treatment from healthcare professionals. In addition to the tangible resources necessary to address childhood illness, parents’ health literacy skills impact their treatment decisions. The current study considered data gathered through focus groups (N = 9 groups) and key informant interviews (N = 13) to explore approaches to childhood illness and their implications for health literacy among Kenyan parents of young children (birth to age 5). Participants included parents, community health workers and community leaders (e.g. village elders) from the Kibera community in Kenya. Themes, resulting from the qualitative data analysis, were mapped onto the Research Triangle Institute’s Health Literacy Skills Framework. Participants were well able to identify health risks, often turned to family and neighbors for medical advice, and relied on a range of resources to treat and prevent illnesses in their children. This range included reliance on traditional healers and religious leaders. Balancing cultural and medical viewpoints will be important considerations for interventions focused on supporting Kenyan parents’ health literacy and skills to recognize and intervene when their children are sick.

To better understand health literacy among Kenyan parents with young children, 91 individuals (parents, community leaders, healthcare providers) provided information about children’s common health concerns and how families address those concerns. The information is consistent with the Health Literacy Skills Framework and illuminated parents’ strengths along with the need to balance cultural and medical viewpoints to improve parents’ health literacy.

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