Young women’s perceptions of life in urban South Africa: Contextualising the preconception knowledge gap

Edna N Bosire, Lisa J Ware, Catherine E Draper, Beth Amato, Lethu Kapueja, Stephen Lye, Shane A Norris

Abstract

Raising awareness to support improved health and well-being of young women in sub-Saharan Africa is critical, particularly in the preconception period in order to achieve improved health for multiple generations. To inform messaging campaign on preconception health, we conducted eight focus group discussions (FGDs) with young women in Soweto to understand their perceptions and access to health messages. Preconception health was generally not a familiar topic for young women. Participants prioritised information seeking for other pressing challenges they faced such as poverty and unemployment. Within this context, mental health was viewed as important, while physical health only gained importance when illness was present or during pregnancy. Television, radio and community health workers were all viewed as useful communication channels for health messaging. Understanding the importance of preconception health of young adults to benefit from the triple dividend of better health now, better health for the future and for children is a critical knowledge gap for young women. Messages aimed to improve preconception physical and mental health could leverage significant health gains. Health messages should be contextualised within the experiences that young women face and should offer information to help young women cope with their challenges. (Afr J Reprod Health 2021; 25[2]: 39-49).

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