Health risk perceptions and local knowledge of water-related infectious disease exposure among Kenyan wetland communities.
BACKGROUND: Risk perceptions have the potential of motivating and shaping health-related behaviour, i.e. the application of protective health measures. They may reduce or accelerate the risk and exposure to diseases and are therefore valuable, particularly in environments such as wetlands that entail multiple risk factors exposing humans to disease-causing infectious agents.
METHODS: We assessed the risk perceptions towards infectious disease exposure in the Kenyan Ewaso Narok Swamp and evaluated whether the perceived risks reflect the actual risk factors. Data were collected from community members (target population, experts) by different methods (cross-sectional survey, in-depth interviews).
RESULTS: The overall level of risk perception regarding the contraction of diseases in the wetland was high. Exposure to water-related infectious diseases was understood as being driven by users' physical contact to water during wetland use, characteristics of pathogens and vectors of disease, both in domestic and occupational environments. The risk factors mostly associated with diseases in wetlands included the limited access to basic water supply, sanitation and poor (environmental) hygiene (WaSH) (typhoid fever, diarrhoeal diseases, schistosomiasis), agricultural irrigation (malaria), the pastoralists' proximity to livestock (trachoma), the use of agrochemicals (skin and eye diseases), seasonal flooding (malaria, typhoid fever) and droughts (trachoma). Different user groups, i.e. farmers and nomadic pastoralists, perceived the use-related risks differently and different (occupational) risks were attributed to different groups. The understanding of disease exposure as due to the intense hydro-social interactions and change present in the fragile semiarid wetland was clear.
CONCLUSIONS: By showing that the risk perceptions reflect the actual risks and shortcomings, this study underpins the vital role of wetland users as key informants. It demonstrates that risk perception studies and resulting recommendations from the grassroots level serve as helpful supportive tools for health-promoting wetland management which requires a sensitive, integrative approach that takes into consideration any and all of the humans, ecology, and animals affected (= One Health).